For the first time, scientists have successfully grown plants on lunar soil, paving the way for long-term stays on the moon.
Researchers grew a form of cress from small quantities of dust collected during the 1969–1972 Apollo missions. The seeds sprouted after two days, much to their amazement.
“I can’t tell you how surprised we were,” said Anna-Lisa Paul, a professor at the University of Florida who co-authored a paper on the findings.
“Every plant, whether in a lunar sample or a control, appeared the same up until about day six.”
Differences arose after that. Plants planted on moon soil began to show signs of stress, mature more slowly, and eventually become stunted. However, some concerned claim it is a breakthrough with earthly ramifications.
“This research is crucial to Nasa’s long-term human exploration ambitions,” said Nasa chief Bill Nelson, “because we’ll need to employ resources found on the Moon and Mars to produce food sources for future humans living and functioning in deep space.”
“This fundamental plant growth research is also a significant illustration of how Nasa is aiming to unleash agricultural advances that could help us understand how plants might resist challenging situations in food-scarce locations here on Earth,” says the researcher.
One problem for researchers is that there isn’t much lunar dirt with which to experiment. NASA astronauts returned 382 kg (842 lb) of lunar rocks, core samples, pebbles, sand, and dust from the lunar surface over three years beginning in 1969.
For the experiment, the University of Florida team was given only 1 gram of soil per plant from the samples, which had been kept locked up for decades.
In a mission scheduled for 2025, Nasa wants to put humans on the moon for the first time since 1972.