Scientists cultivate plants in lunar dirt, next moon stop

Scientists cultivate plants in lunar dirt, next moon stop

A first: Scientists grow plants in the soil from the Moon

Anna-Lisa Paul tries to moisten the lunar soils with a pipette. Scientists have discovered that soils repel water (they were hydrophobic), causing the water to form pellets on the surface. Active agitation of the material with water was required to break the hydrophobicity and to wet the soil evenly. Once moistened, the lunar soils could be wetted with capillary activity for growing plants. Credit: UF / IFAS, Tyler Jones

For the first time, scientists have grown plants in soil from the moon collected by NASA’s Apollo astronauts.

The researchers had no idea if anything would grow in the moon’s hard dirt and wanted to see if it could be used to grow food by the next generation of lunar explorers. The results surprised them.

“Holy cow. Plants actually grow into lunar things. Are you kidding me?” said Robert Ferl of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Ferl and his colleagues planted thale cardamom on the moon soil returned by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11, as well as other moonbearers. The good news: All the seeds have sprouted.

The downside was that after the first week, the roughness and other properties of the lunar soil highlighted so much the small, flowering weeds that grew slower than the seedlings planted in the fake moon soil from Earth. Most of the moon plants have reached a level.

The results were published on Thursday at Biology of Communications.

The more the ground was exposed to punitive cosmic rays and solar wind on the moon, the worse the plants seemed to do. The Apollo 11 specimens – which were exposed to the data a few billion years longer due to the older surface of the Pacific Ocean – were the least favorable for growth, scientists say.

“This is a big step forward for us to know that you can grow plants,” said Simon Gilroy, a space plant biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who had no role in the study. “The real next step is to go and do it on the surface of the moon.”

The moon’s dirt is full of tiny, glass fragments of micrometeorological impacts that reached everywhere on the Apollo lunar landings and wore lunar space costumes.

One solution could be to use newer geological spots on the moon, such as lava flows, to dig up planting soil. The environment could also be modified by changing the nutrient mix or adjusting the artificial lighting,

Only 842 pounds (382 kg) of rock and soil from the Moon carried behind six Apollo crews. Some of the moon’s first dusts were sprinkled on quarantined plants by Apollo astronauts in Houston upon their return from the moon.

Most of the lunar stockpile remained locked, forcing researchers to experiment with simulated volcanic ash soil on Earth. NASA finally gave 12 grams to researchers at the University of Florida early last year, and the long-awaited planting took place last May in a laboratory.

NASA said the timing of such an experiment was finally right, with the space agency trying to bring the astronauts back to the moon in a few years.

The ideal situation would be for future astronauts to take advantage of the endless supply of available local dirt for indoor planting in exchange for installing a hydroponic system, the scientists said.

“The fact that everything has grown means we have a really good starting point and now the question is how we can optimize and improve,” said Sharmila Bhattacharya, a scientist with NASA’s Space Biology program.

Scientists in Florida hope to recycle their lunar soil later this year by planting more cardamom thalli before possibly moving on to other vegetation.

A first: Scientists grow plants in the soil from the Moon

More information:
Anna-Lisa Paul, Plants growing on the lunar regolith of Apollo show stress-related transcripts that update the prospects for lunar exploration, Biology of Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038 / s42003-022-03334-8.

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