NASA Has Successfully Grown Plants in Lunar Soil. Now What?
While we may still be a million more miles away from actually living on the Moon, we now know that we can at least grow plants in its soil. Believe it or not, this is quite the breakthrough.
For the first time ever, scientists have found a way to grow plants in lunar soil, thanks to the Apollo program's astronauts.
This experiment, led by researchers from the University of Florida and published in the Communications Biology journal, showed us that it is likely that someday the Moon can be inhabitable enough for our own plant species.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also expressed that it would explore future space missions focusing primarily on growing plants.
For the first time ever, scientists have grown plants in lunar soil.— NASA (@NASA) May 12, 2022
This @UF and @NASASpaceSci experiment using Apollo Moon samples could shape the future of sustainable astronaut missions to deep space. Dig into the story: https://t.co/ZtUvowKi8e pic.twitter.com/PWGzev7lmN
"This research is critical to NASA's long-term human exploration goals," said US Space Agency Head Bill Nelson. "We'll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space."
Researchers made use of just a few teaspoons of lunar soil called "regolith," which were collected from different areas on the Moon. The samples were taken during the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions.
In tiny pots, they placed the soil and added water and the seeds. A nutrient solution was used to facilitate the growth of Arabidopsis thaliana. These babies are endemic to Eurasia and Africa and, due to their small size, have become one of the most monitored and studied plants in the world because of how adaptable they are to hostile environments. They're basically a cousin of mustard greens and vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
After about two days, there they were, sprouting, in soil from the Earth and samples that mimic lunar and Martian soil. According to lead author of the study, Anna-Lisa Paul, the plants looked about the same in the controlled environment up until their sixth day. After that, the plants in the lunar samples were observed to have grown slower and had stunted roots.
When scientists harvested the plants and ran DNA studies, they discovered that these things grew similarly to how they would in less-ideal environments on Earth.
NASA is said to be preparing to continue its expedition as part of the Artemis program. In the long run, it hopes to have a future where there is lasting human presence on the lunar surface.
“What’s more, growing plants is the kind of thing we’ll study when we go. So, these studies on the ground lay the path to expand that research by the next humans on the Moon," added Chief Exploration Scientist Jacob Bleacher.
One small pot of land, one giant leap for mankind, right?