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Over 400 plant cell cultures will travel to the International Space Station on the SpaceX CRS-20 cargo flight, which is scheduled for a potential launch in March of 2020. However, investigations have the ability to shift due to a variety of reasons and factors, meaning this mission has the potential to change, according to the International Space Station.
And although Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, is said to be handling the transportation of the plant cultures, Front Range Biosciences, which focuses on breeding and nursery production of new plant varieties and seeds for the hemp and coffee industries, is the brains behind the project.
SpaceCells USA Inc. and BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, are also assisting in the mission.
"This is one of the first times anyone is researching the effects of microgravity and spaceflight on hemp and coffee cell cultures," said Jonathan Vaught, co-founder and CEO of Front Range Biosciences.
Roughly 480 plant cell cultures will reside at the International Space Station for a month in order to test how the plant cells undergo gene expression changes or genetic mutations while in space.
"There is science to support the theory that plants in space experience mutations. This is an opportunity to see whether those mutations hold up once brought back to earth and if there are new commercial applications," Vaught said.
The plant cell cultures will be monitored remotely by BioServe's payload operations center at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The results of the experiment “could help growers and scientists identify new varieties or chemical expressions in the plant,” the company said. It could also give scientists a better understanding of how plants deal with the stress of traveling through space and “set the stage for a new area of research for the company and the industry.”
This announcement following SpaceX's early holiday delivery to the International Space Station on Sunday, bringing muscle-bound "mighty mice," pest-killing worms and a smart, empathetic robot.
The news comes on the heels of SpaceX's launch of its Falcon 9 rocket in early December. The rocket was carrying a Dragon Capsule, which housed approximately 5,700 pounds of supplies and payloads.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, manufacturers and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft with the goal of "enabling people to live on other planets," the company's website explains. In 2010, it became the only private company that was able to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, an Earth-centered orbit with an altitude of 2,000 km (about 1242 miles) or less.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.