Lexington-based Space Tango, which in three years has become a leader in managing commercial research aboard the International Space Station, has formed its first subsidiary to experiment in space with hemp’s medicinal properties.
The company on Thursday announced the new subsidiary, which it hasn’t yet named, in partnership with two Kentucky hemp companies, Atalo Holdings and Anavii Market, an online retailer of hemp-derived CBD oil.
Space Tango said its scientists and those of partner companies will conduct plant biology experiments on hemp in the space station’s microgravity environment, where the elements of matter often react quite differently than they do on Earth.
Hemp has only a tiny fraction of the psychoactive chemical THC contained in its botanical cousin, marijuana. But hemp oil has many other chemicals thought to have medicinal benefits.
“We’re making a bet on the biomedical applications of CBD,” said Kris Kimel, Space Tango’s chairman and co-founder, who for many years headed the non-profit Kentucky Science and Technology Corp.
“There are clearly some significant biomedical applications, but it it’s unclear what they are,” Kimel said in an interview. “Research has been dormant for 60-70 years, so there’s a lot we don’t know about hemp.”
Hemp was once Kentucky’s biggest cash crop, because its fiber makes good rope and fabric. But the United States banned the growing of hemp in 1937 because of its resemblance to marijuana. Kentucky and more than a dozen other states have started to revive the crop on a limited basis in recent years under strict federal oversight.
“We’ll see what happens when we take hemp out of the physics and atmosphere of Earth,” Kimel said, adding that the company eventually plans to create more subsidiaries for other specific types of biomedical research in space.
Space Tango now has 14 employees, including one in Houston, to liaison with NASA, and one in California. Its headquarters is in Lexington’s East End, in an 1890s building that was the forerunner of Good Samaritan Hospital. The privately held company doesn’t release financial information, but Kimel said Space Tango “is doing remarkably well for a company that’s barely three years old. The biggest challenge is just meeting demand.”