Image Credit: UF/IFAS/Tyler Jones

NASA is about to send the Artemis astronauts back to the moon’s surface in forthcoming years, and they should then be able to grow their greens. That’s just one of the historical experiments in which scientists worked with samples of lunar surface material, called regolith, to grow plants on Earth successfully.

Arabidopsis thaliana’s Seeds were put in tiny samples of the regolith collected on three different Apollo missions half a century ago. These plants are related to mustard greens,
Although the plants grew in a way that showed that they were stressed, they still found a way, with a little help from the team that provided the light, water, and nutrients.

Paul said that “After two days, they started to sprout!”. He is a professor in Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida. “Everything sprouted. I can’t tell you how astonished we were! Every plant — whether in a lunar sample or a control — looked the same until about day six.”

Lunar regolith is a very fine-grained and powdery substance because those grains are also pointed and edged. But breathing in a cloud of lunar dust can cause damage to our lungs, and the stuff isn’t suitable for plant life either.

Paul added, “Ultimately, we would like to use the gene expression data to help address how we can ameliorate the stress responses to the level where plants — particularly crops — can grow in lunar soil with very little impact on their health.”

Ferl says that growing plants o the moon is a critical factor in a long-term stay on the moon because it will provide not just food but also clean air and water for astronauts and other visitors.

“When we go to space somewhere, we always take our agriculture with us,” said Ferl, also from the University of Florida. “Showing plants will grow in the lunar soil is a huge step in that direction.”

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