Gardening on the Moon

By Susan Littlefield

You may have heard of gardening by the moon, but how about gardening on the moon? In an effort to explore the possibilities for living on the moon for extended periods of time, NASA is planning to investigate how plants do in the lunar environment. Plants can provide clues to the effects on genetic material that might occur from exposure to radiation in space, so they can be NASA's ″canary in the coal mine.″ But figuring out how to keep plants thriving in space will also be a vital part of providing food, oxygen, and water to future space colonists.

To those ends, NASA is constructing a small demonstration unit to study the germination of seeds under the conditions of gravity and radiation found in the lunar environment, using the natural sunlight on the moon to fuel seed germination and plant growth. The self-contained habitat module will be designed to be carried on a lunar lander, possibly on the winner of the Google Lunar X-prize competition. When the module reaches the moon in 2015, water and nutrients will be added to seeds of basil, turnips, and arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard. Their growth will be monitored and photographed for 5-10 days and compared to control plants back on earth. Follow up experiments will include longer term growth studies, multi-generational experiments, and the use of more diverse plant species.

While it may be a while before space farmers are harvesting extraterrestrial eggplant or lunar lettuce, this experiment is an important first step -- one small seed for a turnip; one giant leaf for plantkind.

To find out more about NASA's lunar plant growth experiment, go to NASA .

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