Feeding people during a NASA pit-stop on the Moon en route to Mars could prove a lot easier now scientists have discovered it is possible to grow food on lunar soil.
Working with minuscule amounts of soil from the moon, researchers from the University of Florida have been successful in growing plants on it.
“For future, longer space missions, we may use the Moon as a hub or launching pad. It makes sense that we would want to use the soil that’s already there to grow plants,” explains Rob Ferl, a professor of horticultural sciences in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). “So, what happens when you grow plants in lunar soil, something that is totally outside of a plant’s evolutionary experience? What would plants do in a lunar greenhouse? Could we have lunar farmers?”
The team set about answering these questions – and were surprised when pretty much every seed they planted sprouted.
“We were amazed. We did not predict that,” said Anna-Lisa Paul, a research professor of horticultural sciences in UF/IFAS. “That told us that the lunar soils didn’t interrupt the hormones and signals involved in plant germination.”
Some of the plants were a bit smaller than usual and the researchers say growth could be affected by where on the Moon the soil is taken from. With the result that where soils are more mature – having been exposed to ‘more cosmic wind’, plants experience greater stress but perform better in less mature soils.
“We wanted to do this experiment because, for years, we were asking this question: Would plants grow in lunar soil,” Ferl added. “The answer, it turns out, is yes.”