Scientists have for the first time grown seeds in lunar soil collected by US space agency NASA’s long-ago moonwalkers, an achievement that heralds the promise of using earthly plants to support human outposts on other worlds.
Researchers in the United States said on Thursday that they had planted seeds of a diminutive flowering weed called Arabidopsis thaliana – a type of cress – in 12 small thimble-sized containers, each bearing a small sample of material retrieved during the Apollo missions in 1969 and 1972.
The Moon soil, also known as lunar regolith, has sharp particles and a lack of organic material, differing greatly from the soil on Earth.
It was therefore unknown whether the seeds would germinate. But, after two days, they sprouted and grew.
“When we first saw that abundance of green sprouts cast over all of the samples, it took our breath away,” said horticultural sciences professor Anna-Lisa Paul, director of the University of Florida Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research and co-leader of the study published in the journal Communications Biology.
“Plants can grow in lunar regolith. That one simple statement is huge and opens the door to future exploration using resources in place on the moon and likely Mars,” she added.
NASA eyes lasting human presence on Moon
NASA is preparing to return to the Moon as part of the Artemis programme, with a long-term goal of establishing a lasting human presence on its surface.
“This research is critical to NASA’s long-term human exploration goals,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “We’ll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space.”
He added the research was also an example of how NASA was working “to unlock agricultural innovations that could help us understand how plants might overcome stressful conditions in food-scarce areas here on Earth”.
At first, there were no outward differences at the early stages of growth between those seeds sown in the regolith – composed mostly of crushed basalt rocks – and others sown for comparative study in volcanic ash from Earth with similar mineral composition and particle size.
Source: Al Jazeera
BDST: 1133 HRS, MAY 14, 2022