Scientists successfully grow plants in lunar soil, say farming possible on moon
Last Updated May 13, 2022
Tallahassee (Florida), May 12: Scientists from the University of Florida in a big breakthrough, have shown that plants can successfully sprout and grow in lunar soil. It is a first in human history and a milestone in lunar and space exploration. The breakthrough was made by a team of scientists from the University of Florida. This lunar soil, also called regolith, was brought to Earth from the Moon by the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Fifty years after these samples were recovered, science has taken over. The study that was published in the journal, 'Communications Biology', investigated how plants respond biologically to the moon's soil, also known as lunar regolith, which is radically different from soil found on Earth. "Artemis will require a better understanding of how to grow plants in space," said Rob Ferl, one of the study's authors and a distinguished professor of horticultural sciences in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Even in the early days of lunar exploration, plants played an important role, said Anna-Lisa Paul, also one of the study's authors and a research professor of horticultural sciences in UF/IFAS. "Plants helped establish that the soil samples brought back from the moon did not harbor pathogens or other unknown components that would harm terrestrial life, but those plants were only dusted with the lunar regolith and were never actually grown in it," Paul said. The team is hopeful that this new breakthrough will open the doors for them to one day harvest crops on the Moon as more and more research is done. For the first time, scientists have grown plants in soil from the moon collected by Nasa’s Apollo astronauts. Researchers had no idea if anything would sprout in the harsh moon dirt and wanted to see if it could be used to grow food by a new generation of lunar explorers. The results stunned them. Robert Ferl of the University of Florida and his colleagues planted thale cress in moon soil returned by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and other moonwalkers years ago and the seeds sprouted. The downside was that after the first week, the coarseness and other properties of the lunar soil stressed the small, flowering weeds so much that they grew more slowly than seedlings planted in fake moon dirt from Earth. Most of the moon plants ended up stunted. Results were published on Thursday in Communications Biology. The longer the soil was exposed to punishing cosmic radiation and solar wind on the moon, the worse the plants seemed to do. The Apollo 11 samples – exposed a couple of billion years longer to the elements because of the lunar Sea of Tranquility’s older surface – were the least conducive for growth, according to scientists. This is a big step forward to know that you can grow plants,” said Simon Gilroy, a space plant biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who had no role in the study. “The real next step is to go and do it on the surface of the moon.” Moon dirt is full of tiny, glass fragments from micrometeorite impacts that got everywhere in the Apollo lunar landers and wore down the moonwalkers’ spacesuits. One solution might be to use younger geologic spots on the moon, like lava flows, for digging up planting soil. The environment also could be tweaked, altering the nutrient mixture or adjusting the artificial lighting. Only 842 pounds of moon rocks and soil were brought back by six Apollo crews, and most was locked away. Nasa finally doled out 12 grams to the University of Florida researchers early last year, and the long-awaited planting took place last May in a lab.