NASA grows plants on lunar soil for the first time – Science

An experiment by researchers at the University of Florida (USA) planted seeds in samples of rocks and lunar dust brought to Earth by Apollo astronauts half a century ago. This Thursday, the 12th, was published in the magazine Biology of Natural Communication and NASA, funded by the U.S. space agency, is the first example of a plant grown in soil for research. moonsaid co-author Anna-Lisa Paul, a biologist at the University of Florida.

The result was that plants can grow in the moonlight soil – they do not like it, it can be stressed and purple after initially looking green, but they can still germinate, send their roots across the moonlight soil, sprout leaves, grow and be potentially edible .

Paul and his colleague and co-author Robert Ferl acquired four grams of lunar soil from NASA and obtained 12 grams, four of the three missions: 11, 12, and 17. They planted the seeds of watercress-like plants. Scientists did not know what to expect when adding water to the samples. The land was sealed and archived Johnson Space Center NASA’s Houston. The samples were never exposed to air, liquid water or any of the comforts of the Earth. “We didn’t know if they were going to explode, shut up and bubble up,” Paul said.

The samples were water repellent and highly hydrophobic. Researchers worked to gradually absorb water from the lunar soil and add a nutrient solution, and the plants began to germinate and sprout. It was noted that the land taken from the surface by Apollo 11 astronauts was not as beneficial for growth as the later Apollo missions.

Subsequent analyzes showed that the plants triggered stress genes similar to those seen in plants exposed to harsh conditions such as salt water. The researchers concluded that lunar land can be used for plant production and lunar experiments, but “it is not a benign growth substrate,” the study says. “I think it’s amazing that the plant has grown under these conditions as well,” Ferl said. “It’s stressed, but it doesn’t die. It doesn’t stop growing. It adapts.”

The experiment is expected to be a great opportunity for NASA and other space agencies to support human missions in the future.

taking advantage of natural resources on the surface of the moon. “The idea of ​​bringing the lunar earth into a lunar greenhouse is a dream come true,” Ferle said. “If you look back at science fiction, plants have always been part of a deep exploration agenda.”

The lunar soil contains some of our known elements, including iron and magnesium, but it lacks many of the minerals found on Earth. It also has a different and rougher texture: lots of small, sharp parts. It also contained microscopic fragments of glass left over from meteorite collisions. For these reasons, the roots of the plants did not grow directly like the roots of the plants planted in a simulation of the lunar soil, which served as a control for the experiment. “The roots were bent and twisted,” Paul said. However, he says the plants would be edible. “It’s edible, but it’s not particularly tasty. It’s not considered a food crop in its own right,” he said of the watercress.

There is no way the moon could ever be green, but plants can be genetically modified to adapt to the lunar soil. Jacob Bleacher, NASA’s chief exploration scientist, said that the lunar mission should use local resources instead of transporting everything from Earth. “We plan to send astronauts to other destinations like the Moon and Mars, so we need to learn to live from Earth,” Bleacher said.

Sharmila Bhattacharya, a scientist in NASA’s space biology program, said more work needs to be done.

A useful plant cultivation tool for exploring the moon. He noted that the plants are already growing in International Space Stations and fulfill more than one nutritional function. Astronauts, he said, like to be close to plants. They study plants in their spare time. “We’re really amazed at how much they love these plant habitats,” he said. “When they celebrate each other’s birthdays, they get close to the plant habitat. We realize how much of a positive difference the plants have made.”

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