Space: it is possible to grow plants on the Moon

Growing plants in space using soil is not a new concept, as this research is ongoing aboard the ISS. But this time, the breakthrough is significant: scientists have just succeeded in doing so using lunar regolith…

The regolith is the official name to qualify dust covering the surface of the Moon. This one is known to be rather harmful for the equipment of the astronauts, even if the scientists consider using the moon rock to produce oxygen. But it has now been proven that it can also be used in the context of a long-term mission, to feed the astronauts. Indeed, a team of scientists managed to cultivate a small number of plants using the latter…

Plants growing in regolith - Credit: UF/IFAS/Tyler Jones
Plants growing in regolith – Credit: UF/IFAS/Tyler Jones

The study in question, published in Communications Biology, was carried out using lunar regolith who was brought back to Earth over 50 years ago, when man should set foot on the Moon again in 2026. These samples come from the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions. The scientists thus added water and seeds. They then placed the trays in terrarium boxesand a nutrient solution was added daily.

Moon: plants grow, but less well than with soil

The team cultivated Arabidopsis thaliana, a plant native to Eurasia and Africa, related to mustard greens and other crucifers – cabbage family – such as broccoli or cauliflower. Due to its small size and ease of growth, it is one of the most studied plants in the world. Because of this, scientists already knew how it behaves in different circumstances.

To everyone’s surprise, the seeds quickly germinated. Anna-Lisa Paul, professor of horticultural science and first author of the article, says: “After two days, they started to sprout! […] I can’t tell you how surprised we were ! All the plants – whether lunar sample or control – had the same appearance until about the sixth day.

However, it would seem that the plants only moderately appreciate the regolith. Indeed, after the sixth day, the research team realized that the plants growing in the regolith were not not as hardy as the plants in the control group growing in volcanic ash. Additionally, some had stunted leaves and sported a reddish pigmentation.

Source : universetoday