Plants grown on lunar soil by Apollo expeditions

Plants grown on lunar soil by Apollo expeditions

If you’re like me and struggling to keep an indoor plant alive, the thought of growing plants in the moon’s soil seems out of place in this world.

A team of scientists from the University of Florida showed that it can be done, with the successful growth of the plant Arabidopsis thaliana in soil samples collected during Apollo 11, 12 and 17 lunar missions. Arabidopsis thalianaAlso known as thale cardamom, it is a small flowering plant belonging to the Brassicaceae family (which includes mustard, cabbage and radish) and is a valuable plant used in numerous plant experiments.

Plants are essential to our ambitions for extensive space exploration. As model organisms, they provide information on space-related phenomena such as gravity and radiation, but plants also provide essential components for human habitation, such as food, oxygen, water recycling, and carbon sequestration.

While previous alien plant experiments were based on hydroponic plants, this experiment used lunar soil to understand how plants could grow on the Moon’s surface. The researchers also used a sample of a similar composition of a lunar soil simulator from volcanic ash from Earth as a control. The lands of the Apollo mission each had their own characteristics: samples from Apollo 11 were exposed to lunar surfaces for longer than those from the Apollo 12 or 17 missions, as samples were collected from different layers of soil during each mission.

These video clips show researchers working with lunar soil, planting Arabidopsis (Thale cardamom) and the resulting plants.

So how did the moon garden grow?

The results were mixed. All specimens germinated normally 48–60 hours after planting, with lunar seedlings showing normal stems and cotyledons (the first leaves to emerge from the seed). From day six, the researchers found roots in lunar samples compared to volcanic ash plants. From the eighth day the aerial growth (above the ground) became slower and more variable: the lunar plants took longer to grow leaves and also grew smaller leaves compared to the terrestrial controls. Plants grown in Apollo 12 and 17 samples did better than those grown in Apollo 11 soil.

A genetic analysis of less healthy lunar plants found that more than 1,000 stress-related genes were expressed at different levels by volcanic ash plants. Apollo 11 plants also expressed more genes differently than the Apollo 12 and 17 samples. Of these genes, 71% correlated with stress caused by oxygen-containing salts, metals, and reactive molecules. Researchers believe that this may be due to the increased cosmic rays and the solar wind that may have destroyed the lunar soils.

While the plants flourished less, the experiment showed that the lunar soil can support plant life. an important step in our understanding of the Moon. Unfortunately, as of the time of publication, the researchers had no comment on the taste or recipes of moon cress.

Moon-covered soils
Researcher Rob Ferl weighs the lunar surface. The soil samples were sealed in vials from the time of the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions to the Moon. Credit: Tyler Jones, UF / IFAS
Moon, Moon, soil, plants, genetics, space
Harvest of an Arabidopsis plant that grows in lunar soil. Credit: Tyler Jones, UF / IFAS
Moon, Moon, soil, plants, genetics, space
Placing a plant grown during the experiment in a vial for final genetic analysis. Credit: Tyler Jones, UF / IFAS

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