One Small Step
Scientists have been able to grow plants in soil from the Moon!
Scientists have successfully grown plants in soil collected from the Moon. They say this suggests that it may one day be possible to cultivate crops on the lunar surface and beyond.
Scientists received samples of material that had been collected from the lunar surface during the Apollo missions to the Moon that took place in the 1960s and 1970s. They planted seeds from a plant called thale cress in the lunar material and added water and nutrients. They planted thale cress seeds in some Earth materials as well, some from extreme environments, including volcanic ash. They put all the plantings under an LED light to encourage growth. The result? Nearly all the seeds sprouted, including the seeds that had been planted in the lunar material.
Scientists reported that the seedlings didn’t thrive in the lunar soil the way they did in some other materials. They were smaller and grew more slowly. Their green leaves had some reddish black pigment, which is a sign of stress.
The experiment is part of scientists’ investigation into space agriculture. Long space missions would require the ability to cultivate food in space. So far, scientists have been able to grow food on the International Space Station. But they aren’t sure whether it’s possible to do so on celestial bodies other than Earth.
“To explore further and to learn about the solar system we live in, we need to take advantage of what’s on the Moon, so we don’t have to take all of it with us,” said NASA scientist Jacob Bleacher.
There are still plenty of questions to be answered. Scientists want to find out if there are ways to reduce stress for plants that grow in lunar soil. They also don’t know how well plants would do on the Moon, where the soil is regularly exposed to cosmic rays and solar wind. They’re not sure how the lunar soil would affect the nutritional value of crops, if at all. And they have more questions about how well the soil on the Moon would tolerate having to support crops. Lunar soil is very dry, so crops would need to be watered heavily.
Scientists will keep investigating. Their hope is that, someday, crops on the Moon—and maybe even on Mars—will be a reality.