Scientists Have Successfully Grown Plants In Lunar Soil For The First Time

published May 22, 2022
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It turns out that your green thumb might come in handy if you ever find yourself on the moon. Scientists at the University of Florida were able to germinate thale cress, a small flowering plant in the mustard family found in Europe, Asia, and Africa, in lunar soil collected by Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions. According to those who authored the study, their findings hold huge potential for future colonization of the moon.

“When humans move as civilizations, we always take our agriculture with us,” Professor Robert Ferl, who co-authored the study, said in a statement to the Natural History Museum. “This will be incredibly important on the moon. The ability to take plants successfully is how we’ll grow our own food, purify our air and clean our water; things that will allow us to stay there for a while.”

Prof. Ferl continued, “We can grow plants hydroponically, but the idea of bringing lunar soil into a lunar greenhouse is the stuff of lunar exploration dreams.”

Though plants were successfully grown in lunar soil samples, the thale cress plants were not as robust as those grown in terrestrial soil. They were “slow to develop and many showed severe stress morphologies,” the study reads. The leaves of the lunar plants were also discolored in ways that pointed to poor health and stress.

The researchers concluded that the older the soil is, the less viable the plants were due to longer exposure to solar winds and cosmic radiation.

Astronauts have been growing plants in space since the 1980s, with the Soviet Union growing a successful crop of thale cress in 1982. Russian astronauts were able to harvest and eat their first crop of plants in the early 2000s, with NASA astronauts eating their first space crop in 2015. However, plants have never been grown in lunar soil before this point.

From here, scientists will figure out how different properties of lunar soil are affecting plant growth to hopefully improve the growing process going forward.