This Start-Up Is Growing Cannabis on the International Space Station
Kentucky-based tech company Space Tango is growing industrial hemp and CBD-rich cannabis strains in the cosmos to see how the plants perform in microgravity.
Published on October 4, 2018

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Indoor, outdoor, or outer space? If you ask Kentucky-based tech start-up Space Tango, all three options are perfectly viable for cannabis cultivation.

According to a new report from Techcrunch, Space Tango currently has two micro laboratories on board the international space station where it’s growing strains of CBD-rich hemp in microgravity. The researchers hope that low gravity cultivation will reveal new characteristics in the plants.

“When plants are ‘stressed,’ they pull from a genetic reservoir to produce compounds that allow them to adapt and survive,” Dr. Joe Chappell, a member of the Space Tango Science Advisory Team specializing in drug development and design, told Techcrunch. “Understanding how plants react in an environment where the traditional stress of gravity is removed can provide new insights into how adaptations come about and how researchers might take advantage of such changes for the discovery of new characteristics, traits, biomedical applications, and efficacy.”

Thanks to Space Tango’s small self-contained “clean room” labs, the experimental pods are able to grow on the space station with minimal intrusion. In addition to the two labs currently operating, Space Tango has launched a subsidiary company focused entirely on cannabis, allowing up to six private companies to send samples into orbit every year. As the exploration of hemp genetics continues to garner increased scientific attention, the out-of-this-world grow site could offer new observations about the multi-faceted greenery.

Outside of cannabis and hemp, the same extraterrestrial cultivation process has already been used by brewers at Anheuser-Busch to test the effects of microgravity on barley.

“Each time a new type of physics platform has been successfully harnessed, such as electromagnetism, it has led to the exponential growth of new knowledge, benefits to humankind, and capital formation,” Kris Kimel, co-founder and chairman of Space Tango, said in a statement. “Using microgravity, we envision a future where many of the next breakthroughs in healthcare, plant biology, and technology may well occur off the planet Earth.”

Space Tango’s cosmic hemp grow may be the first cannabis cultivated in microgravity, but it is not the first pot to find itself floating outside of Earth’s atmosphere. In 2017, Arizona medical marijuana dispensary Level Up used a balloon to send a pound of kush into space, eventually selling the intergalactic ganja in eighths and quarters.

On the International Space Station, researchers are still skeptical that the microgravity experiments will turn up any immediate results that lead to commercial viability in the legal weed market. That said, they are confident that the weightless cannabis has the potential to fill in some blanks in the scientific study of the sweet leaf. 

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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