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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Scientists grow plants in lunar soil for the first time

Cape Canaveral, Fla ( Associated Press) — For the first time, scientists have grown plants in soil from the Moon collected by NASA’s Apollo astronauts.

The researchers didn’t know whether anything would grow in the hard Moon dirt and wanted to see if it could be used by the next generation of lunar explorers to grow food. The results surprised him.

“Holy cow. Plants actually grow in lunar material. Are you kidding me?” Robert Ferrell of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida.

Ferrell and his colleagues planted the sac plant in the lunar soil returned by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and other moonwalkers. Good news: all the seeds have sprouted.

The downside was that after the first week, the roughness and other properties of the lunar soil so stressed the small, flowering weeds that they grew more slowly from Earth than seedlings planted in simulated Moon dirt. Most of the moon plants perished.

The results were published Thursday in Communications Biology.

The longer the soil was exposed to punishing cosmic radiation and the solar wind on the Moon, the worse the plants felt. According to scientists, the samples from Apollo 11 – exposed two billion years long to the elements due to the old surface of the Sea of ​​Tranquility – were the least favorable for evolution.

“It’s a big step forward to learn 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 the surface of the Moon.”

The Moon’s dirt is filled with tiny, glass fragments from microscopic meteorite impacts that got everywhere in the Apollo lunar landers and wore off the moonwalkers’ spacesuits.

One solution might be to use small geologic spots, such as lava flows on the Moon, to dig up planting soil. The environment may also be modified, changing the nutrient mix or accommodating artificial lighting,

Only 842 pounds (382 kg) of Moon rocks and soil were brought back by the six Apollo crews. Moon dust was first sprinkled on plants under quarantine with Apollo astronauts in Houston after their return from the Moon.

Most of the lunar vents remained closed, forcing researchers to experiment with simulated soils made of volcanic ash on Earth. NASA finally gave 12 grams to University of Florida researchers early last year, and the long-awaited planting took place in a lab last May.

NASA said the timing of such an experiment was finally right, with the space agency looking to return astronauts to the Moon in a few years.

The ideal situation would be for future astronauts to install a hydroponic, or all-water, system to tap into the endless supply of local dirt available for indoor planting, scientists said.

“The fact that anything grows means we have a really good starting point, and the question now is how do we adapt and improve,” said Sharmila Bhattacharya, NASA’s program scientist for space biology. ,

Florida scientists hope to recycle their lunar soil later this year, possibly planting more sacs before moving on to other vegetation.

The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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