Astronomers have long been interested in extraterrestrial agriculture. Plants in space can lead to longer and easier spaceflights because they can then contribute both oxygen and food.
Until now, it has only been possible to grow plants on space stations, but the goal is to grow directly in Earth on alien planets.
Now this goal is one step closer to becoming a reality. A research team from the University of Florida managed to get Plants to germinate and grow in the soil of the moon.
A teaspoon of soil from three moon landings
Researchers have grown plants in the lunar soil from three of the six manned NASA Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972.
Although astronauts brought home a total of 382 kilograms of lunar material, scientists received only twelve grams of Earth from the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions.
The researchers divided the soil into containers of one gram each. The three space missions from which researchers obtained soil yielded four containers each containing one teaspoon of lunar soil.
For control, four similar containers were filled with artificial lunar soil made of fine volcanic ash from Earth.
The researchers sowed seeds from the backtrav plant (Arabidopsis thaliana), which had previously been successfully grown on space stations in a weightless condition.
After two days, all the seeds sprouted in small pots, but after six days they grew in very different ways depending on the type of lunar soil.
The healthiest and fastest-growing plants grew in the artificial lunar soil, while the plants in the real lunar soil were smaller, grew more slowly and discolored the leaves.
Young lunar soil produces healthy plants
Soils from the Apollo 11 mission gave the worst results, while the Apollo 12 and 17 plants were the healthiest.
The researchers believe that this is due to the age of the soil samples. The older the lunar Earth, the longer it will be exposed to cosmic energy and the solar wind.
The Apollo 11 Earth rover, taken from the Pacific Ocean on the Moon, is geologically older than Earth on the Apollo 12 mission.
In addition, the younger Apollo 12 Earth was taken from the ocean of Storms, which was later exposed to lava flows, which made the Earth more fertile.
Apollo 17 took soil samples from the Taurus Litro region, which during the last geological period of the Moon was bombarded with meteorites and asteroids. It made the Earth more fertile because it was not asleep and thus exposed to pollutants from cosmic radiation and the solar wind.
Plants on the Moon 2025
NASA plans to send humans to the moon again in 2025 with the so-called Artemis program. This is the first time since 1972 that a person has set foot on the moon.
There, the astronauts will, among other things, experiment with plants growing on Earth on the Moon.
Scientists hope their experiments will help NASA find ideal areas to grow plants on the Moon.
If successful, the plants could provide astronauts with food and oxygen for longer space travel.