NASA to grow plants on the Moon

The agency plan to send a self-contained garden to the lunar surface


Credit: NASA

Mizuna lettuce has already been grown on the International Space Station.

NASA is returning to the Moon. But this time, instead of sending people, they're sending plants. Basil, flower and turnip seeds will be sent to Earth’s nearest neighbour to see how they stand up against the harsh lunar environment in the first life-science experiment ever to take place on another celestial body.

In this first test, scientists will send a small, sealed growth chamber to the lunar surface. But it’s hoped that the results could lead to larger gardens that would eventually be used to help support astronauts in future manned space missions. The plants would convert the carbon dioxide expelled by astronauts into oxygen, while also supplying a fresh source of food and psychological comfort.

NASA hope to send the garden up in 2015 and plan to hitch a ride with Moon Express, one of the contenders for the Google Lunar X-Prize, a competiton that will award up to $40 million (£24 million) to the first private company to successfully land on the Moon.

Once the lander reaches its destination, the seeds will be sprinkled with water then left to grow for five days until the air supply runs out. The Sun's rays will shine on the saplings through optical fibres, while a camera will broadcast their progress back to the Earth. "As seedlings they can be as sensitive as humans to environmental conditions," said a NASA spokesman, "They can test the lunar environment for us, acting as a 'canary in a coal mine'. If we send plants and they thrive, then we probably can too."


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