Scientists grow plants in lunar dirt, next stop moon

May 12, 2022, 8:37 AM | Updated: May 17, 2022, 4:10 pm
In this 2021 photo provided by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Scienc...

In this 2021 photo provided by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, a researcher harvests a thale cress plant growing in lunar soil, at a laboratory in Gainesville, Fla. For the first time, scientists have used lunar soil collected by long-ago moonwalkers to grow plants, with results promising enough that NASA and others already are envisioning hothouses on the moon for the next generation of lunar explorers. (Tyler Jones/UF/IFAS via AP)

(Tyler Jones/UF/IFAS via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — For the first time, scientists have grown plants in soil from the moon collected by NASA’s Apollo astronauts.

Researchers had no idea if anything would sprout in the harsh moon dirt and wanted to see if it could be used to grow food by the next generation of lunar explorers. The results stunned them.

“Holy cow. Plants actually grow in lunar stuff. Are you kidding me?” said Robert Ferl of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Ferl and his colleagues planted thale cress in moon soil returned by Apollo 11´s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and other moonwalkers. The good news: All of the seeds sprouted.

The downside was that after the first week, the coarseness and other properties of the lunar soil stressed the small, flowering weeds so much that they grew more slowly than seedlings planted in fake moon dirt from Earth. Most of the moon plants ended up stunted.

Results were published Thursday in Communications Biology.

The longer the soil was exposed to punishing cosmic radiation and solar wind on the moon, the worse the plants seemed to do. The Apollo 11 samples — exposed a couple billion years longer to the elements because of the Sea of Tranquility’s older surface — were the least conducive for growth, according to scientists.

“This is a big step forward to know that you can grow plants,” said Simon Gilroy, a space plant biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who had no role in the study. “The real next step is to go and do it on the surface of the moon.”

Moon dirt is full of tiny, glass fragments from micrometeorite impacts that got everywhere in the Apollo lunar landers and wore down the moonwalkers’ spacesuits.

One solution might be to use younger geologic spots on the moon, like lava flows, for digging up planting soil. The environment also could be tweaked, altering the nutrient mixture or adjusting the artificial lighting,

Only 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of moon rocks and soil were brought back by six Apollo crews. Some of the earliest moon dust was sprinkled on plants under quarantine with the Apollo astronauts in Houston after returning from the moon.

Most of the lunar stash remained locked away, forcing researchers to experiment with simulated soil made of volcanic ash on Earth. NASA finally doled out 12 grams to the University of Florida researchers early last year, and the long-awaited planting took place last May in a lab.

NASA said the timing for such an experiment was finally right, with the space agency looking to put astronauts back on the moon in a few years.

The ideal situation would be for future astronauts to tap into the endless supply of available local dirt for indoor planting versus setting up a hydroponic, or all-water, system, scientists said.

“The fact that anything grew means that we have a really good starting point, and now the question is how do we optimize and improve,” said Sharmila Bhattacharya, NASA’s program scientist for space biology,

The Florida scientists hope to recycle their lunar soil later this year, planting more thale cress before possibly moving on to other vegetation.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - The Flint water plant tower is seen, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Flint, Mich. A Michigan Supr...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: Years later, Flint water court fight drags on

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan authorities have long promised to hold key officials criminally responsible for lead contamination and health problems arising from a disastrous water switch in Flint in 2014. There’s not much to show more than eight years later. The latest: an extraordinary rebuke Tuesday from the state Supreme Court, which unanimously dismissed indictments […]
12 hours ago
FILE-- Gas is advertised for more than $6 per gallon at a gas station in Sacramento, Calif., Friday...
Associated Press

California lawmakers to vote on $307.9 billion spending plan

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers on Wednesday will vote on a plan to spend $308 billion in taxpayer money over the next year as the coffers of the world’s fifth largest economy continue to swell during the pandemic. The centerpiece of the operating budget crafted by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders is […]
12 hours ago
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks during the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in the Sou...
Associated Press

Most say nation on wrong track, including Dems: AP-NORC poll

WASHINGTON (AP) — An overwhelming and growing majority of Americans say the U.S. is heading in the wrong direction, including nearly 8 in 10 Democrats, according to a new poll that finds deep pessimism about the economy plaguing President Joe Biden. Eighty-five percent of U.S. adults say the country is on the wrong track, and […]
12 hours ago
Lev Parnas, a former associate of Rudy Giuliani, arrives at the federal courthouse with his wife Sv...
Associated Press

Giuliani’s former Ukraine fixer gets 20 months in prison

NEW YORK (AP) — Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani who was a figure in President Donald Trump’s first impeachment investigation, was sentenced Wednesday to a year and eight months in prison for fraud and campaign finance crimes. Parnas, 50, had sought leniency on the grounds that he’d cooperated with the Congressional probe of […]
12 hours ago
This Feb. 26, 2021, file photo shows an oil well east of Casper, Wyo. The Biden administration is r...
Associated Press

Biden administration holding its first onshore oil sales

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The U.S. government this week is holding its first onshore oil and gas drilling lease auctions since President Joe Biden took office after a federal court blocked the administration’s attempt to suspend such sales because of climate change worries. The online auctions start Wednesday and conclude Thursday. About 200 square miles […]
12 hours ago
Follow @ktar923...
Sponsored Content by Arizona Department of Health Services

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
Scientists grow plants in lunar dirt, next stop moon