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 moondust and wanted to see if it could be used to grow food by the next generation of lunar explorers. They were stunned by the results, in AP. “Holy cow. Plants actually grow in lunar stuff. Are you kidding me?” said Robert Ferrell of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Ferrell and his colleagues grew cress in lunar soil that Neil Armstrong of Apollo 11, Buzz Aldrin and other lunar walkers brought back.
The good news: All the seeds have germinated. The downside was that after the first week, the coarseness and other characteristics of the lunar soil put pressure on the small-flowered weeds to the point that they grew more slowly than seedlings grown in lunar soil fake from the ground. Most moon plants ended up stunted. The results have been published in Communication biology. The longer the soil is exposed to cosmic radiation and the solar wind on the Moon, the worse the plants appear. The Apollo 11 samples — which were exposed more than a billion years to the elements due to the surface of the older Sea of Tranquility — were the least suitable for growth, according to the scientists.
“This is a huge step forward for knowing that you can grow plants. The next real step is to go and do it on the moon,” said Simon Gilroy, an aerospace plant biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the study. Lunar dust is littered with tiny glass shards from micrometeorite impacts that reached everywhere in the Apollo lunar landers and donned their moonwalk spacesuits. One solution might be to use smaller geological spots on the Moon, such as lava flows, to dig up the cultivated soil. The environment could also be modified, the mix of nutrients could be changed, or artificial lighting could be modified.
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