Spring has just got here, and you're probably tentatively peering out the window of your dust-filled flat for your first glimmer of real sunshine in five months. Maybe you're even prepping your garden—in which case I invite you to consider investing in space basil. It's exactly what it sounds like.
Though £16 might seem like an exorbitant amount of money to pay for a few measly cinnamon basil seeds, these babies have been exposed to outer space—an experience that would cost your gargantuan body at least several hundred thousand pounds. These aren't the only seeds to have gone to space, though—fruit, flower, and vegetables seeds have played a pivotal role in helping us figure out whether space travel would be safe for humans, since the very beginning of the space program.
In fact, they were actually some of the first organisms to go to space. In 1946, the US launched a V-2 rocket as part of its work towards launching manned spacecraft—aboard the rocket were seeds, but the payload was lost. The next year, another rocket carried more seeds into space, and soon all manner of wildflower and vegetable seeds were blasting into orbit.
ISS-27 astronaut Cady Coleman holds a bag of space seeds.
In 1983, the CEO of a company called Park Seed heard about a new program at NASA called the "Get Away Special." A little bit like today's Cube Sats, the program let civilians and businesses pay to send small cargo into space, whether for science or sheer novelty. The same year, Park sent 25 pounds of seeds into space aboard NASA's Challenger space shuttle—they were later returned to Earth and studied for signs of radiation and other negative effects (of which there were none).
The next year, Park sent 25 million tomato seeds into space, this time as part of a NASA program that aimed to study the effects of long-term orbit on living organisms. Those seeds didn't return for give years—at which point Park doled them out to students across the nation. "Ultimately, 132,000 experimental kits were sent to 64,000 teachers in more than 40,000 schools, involving more than three million students, throughout the United States and 30 foreign countries," the company says. It was "one of the largest science experiments ever."
Park's work with NASA continued for decades. These particular seeds rode aboard NASA's Space Shuttle Discovery during a 2006 mission that carried one million cinnamon basil seeds into orbit, exposing them to outer space before they returned to terra firma. Those seeds are the ones you can buy for £16 (when they're back in stock), which also gets you a pack of normal, boring old cinnamon basil seeds to serve as a control group in your experiments. [Space Boosters]