For the first time, scientists have grown plants in the soil from the moon he collected NASAApollo astronauts.
The researchers had no idea if anything would grow in lunar dust and wanted to see if it could be used to grow food by a new generation of lunar explorers. The results stunned them.
“Holy cow. Plants actually grow in lunar stuff. Are you kidding me?” said Robert Ferrell of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Ferrell and his colleagues planted cress in lunar soil that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 and other lunar walkers brought back years ago, and the seeds sprouted.
The downside was that after the first week, the coarseness and other characteristics of the lunar soil put pressure on the small-flowered weeds to the point that they grew more slowly than seedlings grown in lunar soil fake from the ground.
Most moon plants ended up stunted. The results were published Thursday in the journal Communications Biology.
The longer the soil is exposed to cosmic radiation and the solar wind on the Moon, the worse the plants appear.
The Apollo 11 samples — which were exposed more than 2 billion years ago to the elements due to the surface of the ancient lunar sea of calm — were the least conducive to growth, according to the scientists.
“This is a huge step forward for knowing that you can grow plants,” said Simon Gilroy, an aerospace plant biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who was not involved in the study. “The next real step is to go and do it on the moon.”
Lunar dust is littered with tiny glass shards from micrometeorite impacts that reached everywhere in the Apollo lunar landers and donned spacesuits for moonwalks.
One solution might be to use younger geological spots on the Moon, such as lava flows, to dig up cultivated soil. The environment can also be modified, changing the mixture of nutrients or adjusting artificial lighting.
Only 842 pounds of moon rock and soil were brought in by six Apollo crews, most of them locked away.
NASA finally distributed 12 grams to University of Florida researchers early last year, and the much-anticipated cultivation took place last May in a lab.
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