Why is it important: Further research could help us understand which plants are best suited to grow in the lunar regolith, as well as which parts of the Moon are the most fertile. All of this, in turn, could also allow astronauts to someday grow plants in the soil from Mars.
According to the recently published study With NASA funding, scientists have successfully grown plants in soil brought back from the moon.
The six Apollo missions collected a total of 381kg of lunar soil and rock, and last year NASA finally decided to donate 12g of it to the University of Florida. There, the researchers planted seeds of watercress, an easy-to-grow plant native to Eurasia and Africa, in about a gram of soil each and moistened them daily with a nutrient solution. They also planted a control group in AO-1A volcanic ash, which was used to simulate lunar soil.
Scientists have grown plants in lunar soil for the first time.
This @UV and @NASASpaceSci An experiment using samples from the Apollo Moon could determine the future of sustainable astronaut deep space missions. Dive into history: https://t.co/ZtUvowKi8e pic.twitter.com/PWGzev7lmN
— NASA (@NASA) May 12, 2022
Surprisingly, all plants germinated within 60 hours, and at first the lunar samples looked the same as the controls. However, by the sixth day, the researchers began to notice differences between the two. Plants grown in the lunar regolith grew more slowly and had stunted roots and leaves, and some even took on a reddish coloration.
Another notable observation was that the plants struggled the most with samples from the Apollo 11 mission that were collected from the Sea of Tranquility. This soil has been the longest exposed to cosmic radiation and solar wind on the Moon.
After 20 days, the team harvested the plants, and RNA studies showed that the lunar plants were under stress and reacted the same way they would in other harsh conditions, such as when the soil has too much salt or heavy metals.
NASA says the study paves the way for growing plants in habitats on the Moon.
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