Can plants grow on the moon? NASA plans test in 2015

Nov 27, 2013 by Nancy Owano report
Plant growth chambers, seeds and watering devices that made up part of an experiment flown to the space station during the STS-118 space shuttle mission. The seeds were later returned to Earth and grown within lunar growth chambers designed by students. Credit: NASA

(Phys.org) —NASA is planning to launch a milestone experiment involving growing plants on the moon. The target date is 2015, when the agency will deposit plants on the moon's surface. The initiative is being driven by the Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team. They intend to use coffee-can sized containers designed to protect the plants against harsh elements of the climate, and will also provide cameras, sensors, and electronics in order to relay information about how the plants fare back to earth. NASA's plan is "to develop a very simple sealed growth chamber that can support germination over a five to-ten day period in a spacecraft on the Moon."

What will NASA try to grow? The containers will attempt to grow turnip, basil and Arabidopsis The latter is used often in plant research; Simon Gilroy, University of Wisconsin-Madison botany professor, has referred to the Arabidopsis as "the lab rat of plant biology." Will the life forms survive the lunar surface? NASA's plan is to find some answers when this "self-contained habitat," which will have a mass of about 1 kg and would be a payload on a commercial lunar lander, is on the , How it gets there is another interesting side of the story, because NASA is taking advantage of a parallel event to save costs significantly.

"How can we send plants to the Moon soon? Hitchhiking. Thanks to Google, there are many potential rides to the moon in the near future, with commercial spacecraft companies competing to collect the Google Lunar X-Prize in 2015," according to NASA. (The prize is in reference to what is called the Google Lunar XPRIZE, an incentive to safely land on the surface of the Moon. In order to win the , a private company must land safely on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters above, below, or on the , and send back two mooncasts to Earth, said Google. Teams may also compete for bonus prizes such as exploring lunar artifacts or surviving the lunar night, and can be awarded prize money earlier by completing terrestrial or in-space milestones. Everything needs to be completed, though, by December 31, 2015.)

As for the NASA plant project, after landing, water will be added to the seeds in the module—a trigger would release a small reservoir of water wetting filter paper and initiating germination of the seeds. Air in the sealed container would be adequate for more than five days of growth. Their growth will be monitored for five to ten days and compared to Earth-based controls. The seedlings would be photographed at intervals. According to NASA, "We would use the natural sunlight on the moon as the source of illumination for plant germination as a first ISRU (in situ resource utilization) demonstration."

NASA believes the effort will yield returns on two fronts, knowledge about plants and broader knowledge about life's chances on the moon. The information about the plants may help NASA better address the question if humans can live and work on the moon. In the words of NASA: "Can humans live and work on the moon? Not just visit for a few days but stay for decades? A first step in long term presence is to send . As seedlings, they can be as sensitive as humans to environmental conditions, sometimes even more so. They carry genetic material that can be damaged by radiation as can that of humans. They can test the lunar environment for us acting as a 'canary in a coal mine.'"

Explore further: NASA launching robotic explorer to moon from Va.

More information: www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/cct/office/cif/2013/lunar_plant.html

Related Stories

NASA offers guidelines to protect historic sites on the Moon

May 24, 2012

(Phys.org) -- NASA and the X Prize Foundation of Playa Vista, Calif., announced Thursday the Google Lunar X Prize is recognizing guidelines established by NASA to protect lunar historic sites and preserve ongoing and future ...

Europe's plans to visit the Moon in 2018

Jul 27, 2012

The European Space Agency is aiming for the Moon with their Lunar Lander mission, anticipated to arrive on the lunar surface in 2018. Although ESA successfully put a lander on the surface of Titan with the ...

Future lunar landing sites mapped out

Jan 07, 2011

Here’s the map of the future: a look where all the contestants in the Google Lunar X PRIZE intend to land on the Moon, in hopes of nabbing the $30 million in prizes available to the first privately funded ...

Recommended for you

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

16 hours ago

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

16 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Meteorite studies suggest hidden water on Mars

17 hours ago

Geochemical calculations by researchers at Tokyo Institute of Technology to determine how the water content of Mars has changed over the past 4.5 billion years suggest as yet unidentified reservoirs of water ...

User comments : 15

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

betterexists
2.4 / 5 (17) Nov 27, 2013
After about half a century.....Making some sense now!
Several Decades gone to waste.
Humpty
1.4 / 5 (14) Nov 27, 2013
Well with the moon supporting a thriving population of Aliens and Nazis - of course the plants will grow.

Send them a bit of cash, we could even have the great grand children of Adolf and Eva watering them after school.

triplehelix
1.5 / 5 (15) Nov 27, 2013
Erm. It's in a spacecraft sitting on the moons surface. The plants won't be actually planted into the moon.

What an absolutely stupid experiment.

Basically the actual experiment is "do plants grow in spacecraft near some arbitary mass in space"

I thought they were literally going to put plants into moon dust and see what happened.
QuixoteJ
1.5 / 5 (15) Nov 27, 2013
I thought they were literally going to put plants into moon dust and see what happened.
Me too! A little disappointing.

And get private companies OUT of space exploration!
ScottyB
1.5 / 5 (13) Nov 27, 2013
Erm.

I thought they were literally going to put plants into moon dust and see what happened.


me too, surely they could find away to fill the container up with regolith and see how they grow, after all didn't i read on this site some time back that they had plants growing in simllated moon dust?
MachinegunDojo
2.1 / 5 (11) Nov 27, 2013
I was also thinking they would plant these in regolith somehow by gathering it into the container and see how it goes. But these are very small scale experiments, 1kg each, obviously on a very very tight budget and only want to confirm if at least in the best of conditions using lunar gravity and lack of radiation shielding will plants still grow? I think it's a very worthy experiment, and hopefully more will follow if these succeed. In hindsight though, I just don't think I would want to eat food grown from regolith anyways... would it actually be healthy even if it had the proper nutrients? I think most likely it would form a great base for planting food in the future but we will have to add various nutrients, saving on space needed on future missions. Though IIRC that stuff isn't something you want to bring inside either, tiny sharp broken glass.
NOM
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 27, 2013
I thought they were literally going to put plants into moon dust and see what happened.
You can't have grown many plants. At best, lunar regolith would be a poor hydroponic medium.
How to turn lunar regolith into a good plant growing medium will take a lot of effort. But first, they need to be clear how the environment (sunlight, cosmic radiation) will affect some model organisms.
NOM
4 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2013
Now for the really big question. Who the hell are they going to get to water the plants and do the pruning? Hey that sounds like a good job for the HannesHasAManCrushOnAlfven.
I've heard that some Moon-Hoax theorists have volunteered to go up to do the job. Since it is all a hoax they say they won't need space suits or a return trip, just some money for a bus trip home.
While it is true that hannes is both stupid and expendable, even he is a far higher lifeform than a moon-hoax nutjob.
El_Nose
3 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2013
The initiative is being driven by the Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team. They intend to use coffee-can sized containers designed to protect the plants against harsh elements of the climate


protect the plants against harsh elements of the climate???....
triplehelix
1.4 / 5 (10) Nov 28, 2013
I thought they were literally going to put plants into moon dust and see what happened.
You can't have grown many plants. At best, lunar regolith would be a poor hydroponic medium.
How to turn lunar regolith into a good plant growing medium will take a lot of effort. But first, they need to be clear how the environment (sunlight, cosmic radiation) will affect some model organisms.


This was my point. That's why I clicked on this article because I was highly skeptical about it being possible. Turns out its a pointless experiment with a useless science journalist sensationalising it. My comments were simply to state my opinion on that.
bluehigh
1.4 / 5 (10) Nov 28, 2013
because the moon dirts wouldn't have the old dead stuffs


Are you sure? Dig deeper.
adam_russell_9615
1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 01, 2013
Id be extremely surprised if they could not grow, as long as decent soil is provided or hydroponics. A better question would be - can they survive on moon soil?
24volts
1.9 / 5 (9) Dec 02, 2013
I don't see why they can't just do that experiment on the space station since they are not going to be using moon dirt anyway. Just mount the sealed containers on the outside of the station and see how they do. It wouldn't cost anywhere near as much money and they would get pretty much the same results.
ScottyB
1 / 5 (7) Dec 02, 2013
Would love to know which jerk has been rating all these valid comments 1, at least have the balls to say why you disagree with people. But yes @24volts i agree, the only difference would be the gravity,. they know plants can grow in Zero G, so its kind of pointless in this respect.
Humpty
2 / 5 (4) Dec 06, 2013
Why are they NOT going for growing from seed, to full plant?

A full growing season - like take up a pack of hot chillie seeds and make a nice little enviropod thing to grow them in, with other things to help recycle and hoe things over - such as insects, other plants etc., - and leave them to grow, crop, seed and then regrow.....

Bit of a useless fucking issue if it's only a 28 day seed sprouter.

More news stories

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Vegetables on Mars within ten years?

The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen UR. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to ...

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...