Space agriculture: scientists grow plants on Earth using lunar soil

Could we grow plants directly on the Moon ? This is the first step.

It’s a small pot of soil, but a big step for space farming : For the first time, scientists grew plants in a few grams of lunar soil collected decades ago by Apollo astronauts .

This success fuels the hope that one day plants could be grown directly on the Moon , saving future explorers numerous and expensive cargoes aboard their rockets for longer and more distant missions.

There is still a lot of work to be done before achieving it, however, shows the work of researchers from the University of Florida, published this Thursday in the journal Communications Biology.

“This research is crucial to NASA ‘s long-term human exploration goals, ” NASA Chief Bill Nelson said in a statement.

“We will have to use resources on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living in deep space.”

For their experiment, the researchers used just 12 grams of lunar soil (a few teaspoons), collected from different locations on the Moon during the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions.

In small thimble-sized pots, they placed about a gram of soil (known as regolith), added water, and then the seeds.

A nutrient solution was also added daily.

The plant grown in lunar soil

The plant used was Arabidopsis thaliana, chosen because it grows easily and, above all, because its genetic code and its behavior in hostile environments (even in space) are already known.

The seeds were planted simultaneously in the soil of our Earth and the samples recreated lunar and Martian soil for comparison.

After two days, the seeds from the lunar samples germinated. And “all the plants, whether in the lunar soil or in the control samples, looked alike by day six,” Anna-Lisa Paul, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

Lunar plants were later found to grow more slowly and have stunted roots.

After 20 days, scientists collected the samples and studied their DNA. They found that the lunar plants had responded in the same way as in a harsh environment, such as when a soil has too much salt or heavy metals.

In the future, scientists want to understand how this environment could offer greater hospitality.

Artemis and the return to the Moon

NASA is preparing to return to the Moon as part of the Artemis program , with the goal of establishing a lasting human presence there.