When does NASA take off?Returning to the lunar surface in the coming years, they should be able to cultivate their own power. This is just a bifurcation of a historical experiment in which scientists used samples of lunar surface material, called regolith, to grow plants here on Earth.
Scientists sowed the seeds of the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, related to mustard greens, in small samples of regolith collected on three different Apollo missions half a century ago.
But while the seeds sprouted and grew, they did not fully bloom.
“Lunar soil does not contain many nutrients needed to support plant growth,” Stephen Ellardo of the University of Florida said during a press conference on Wednesday.
Elardo is a co-author of research presentation paper Published in Communications Biology Thursday, with Anna Lisa Ball and Robert Ferrell.
While the plants grew in a way that suggested they were under stress, they still found a relatively quick way to go, with little help from the team providing them with light, water and nutrients.
“After two days, it started growing,” Paul, who is also a professor of horticulture at the University of Florida, He said in a statement. “Everything sprouted. I can’t tell you how surprised we were. Every plant–whether in a lunar sample or in a control–looked the same until about day six.”
By the end of the first week, plants in the regolith showed slower growth, stunted roots and leaves, and some red spots. Genetic analysis would later confirm that the Greens were under stress.
Lunar regolith is very fine and powdery, but don’t be fooled, because these grains are also sharp. Inhalation of lunar dust can damage the lungs, and the material is not particularly suitable for plant life.
“Ultimately, we’d like to use gene expression data to help address how to improve stress responses to a level where plants – especially crops – can grow in lunar soil with very little impact on their health,” Paul added.
Ferrell says growing plants on the moon is key to staying on the moon for a long time by helping provide not only food but also clean air and water for astronauts and other visitors.
“When we go into space somewhere, we always take our cultivations with us,” said Ferrell, also of the University of Florida. “Showing the plants that will grow in the lunar soil is actually a big step in that direction.”
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