Nasa to grow PLANTS on the moon: Space agency will sow seeds to see if humans could one day live on Earth's neighbour
Nasa plans on sowing its first seeds on the moon in 2015 by hitching a lift on commercial spacecraft the Moon Express lander
The Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team is constructing a small unit to study germination of plants in lunar gravity and radiation for five to 10 days
Water will be added to the seeds in the module after landing and their growth will be monitored and compared to Earth-based control seedlings
Nasa is taking one small step to seeing if humans could live on the moon by planning an experiment to explore whether plants can be grown in the harsh lunar environment.
The U.S. space agency plans on sowing its first seeds in specially designed canisters containing everything that is needed for the seedlings to thrive, that it will send to the moon in 2015.
A group of scientists, students and volunteers - known as the Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team - are constructing a small unit to study the germination of plants when exposed to lunar gravity and radiation.
They plan is to install small containers with seedlings and filter paper impregnated with the nutrients they need, then monitor their growth using sensors and cameras to send information about their progress to Earth.
Seedlings can be as sensitive as humans to environmental conditions and sometimes even more so, according to Nasa, which explained their genetic material can be damaged like radiation.
THE LUNAR SEEDLING EXPERIMENT
Goal: To study the germination of plants in lunar gravity and radiation.
When: The seeds will hitch a lift on the first Moon Express lander in 2015.
The experiment: Scientists will develop a sealed growth chamber that can support germination over a 5-10 day period in a spacecraft on the Moon.
Filter paper with dissolved nutrients inside the container will support around 100 seeds of Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant, and 10 seeds each of basil and turnips.
Upon landing on the moon a trigger will release a small reservoir of water wetting the filter paper and initiating germination of the seeds.
The air in the sealed container should be adequate to for more than 5 days of growth.
The seedlings will be photographed at intervals to compare with those growth in Earth controls.
The space agency said: ‘They can test the lunar environment for us acting as a canary in a coal mine.’
Thriving plants need the same ingredients for life as humans – food, water and air – and also provide psychological comfort for people, demonstrated by the popular greenhouses in Antarctica and the International Space Station.
‘If we send plants and they thrive, then [humans] probably can,’ Nasa says on its website.
Nasa plans on sending the seedlings to the moon by hitching a lift on a commercial spacecraft called the Moon Express lander, which is competing to win Google’s Lunar X-Prize in 2015.
Scientists are currently constructing a unit to study the germination of the plants, which will have a mass of just one kilogram and will be deposited on the moon.
Water will be added to the seeds in the module after landing and their growth will be monitored for five to 10 days and compared to Earth-based control seedlings.
Seeds will include Arabidopsis, basil, and turnips and Nasa says the experiment will be the first of its kind on another world and ‘an important first step in the utilisation of plants for human life support’.
Follow-up experiments will improve the technology in the growth module and allow for more extensive plant experiments, the organisation said.
Survival for 14 days demonstrates plants can sprout in the moon’s radiation environment but survival to 60 days demonstrates that sexual reproduction (meiosis) can occur in a lunar environment.
Survival to 180 days shows effects of radiation on dominant and recessive genetic traits and afterwards, the experiment may run for months through multiple generations, increasing science return.
There has been a lot of research on plant growth in microgravity, on space shuttles and in the International Space Station.
But the surface of the moon is the only location in which the effects of both lunar gravity and lunar radiation on plant growth can be studied.