For the first time in history, scientists have grown plants in soil collected from the Moon -- a critical step forward in space exploration
The experiment was jointly conducted by NASA and the University of Florida. Researchers used soil samples collected by Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions to grow Arabidopsis, which is a relative of mustard greens.
For each plant, the team allotted only a gram of lunar soil or regolith. They added water and seeds to the soil samples and left them in terrarium boxes in a clean room,” NASA said in a statement on May 12. A solution had to be added daily to the nutrient-poor soil.
After two days, the seeds sprouted, leaving researchers surprised.
“I can’t tell you how astonished we were,” Anna-Lisa Paul, a professor of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, said. “Every plant -- whether in a lunar sample or in a control -- looked the same up until about day six.”
After day six, it became clear to the researchers that the plants were not as strong as those grown in Earth soil. “The plants grew more slowly and had stunted roots; additionally, some had stunted leaves and sported reddish pigmentation,” NASA said.
Nevertheless, the experiment is significant to NASA space exploration goals.
"We’ll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This fundamental plant growth research is also a key example of how NASA is working to unlock agricultural innovations that could help us understand how plants might overcome stressful conditions in food-scarce areas here on Earth.”