(ORDO NEWS) — The scientists had no idea if anything would grow in the harsh lunar soil and wanted to see if it could be used to grow food by lunar explorers. The results stunned them.
“Plants actually grow in lunar material. Are you joking?” said Robert Ferl of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida.
Ferl and his colleagues planted watercress in lunar soil brought to Earth by the Apollo 11 mission – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and other astronauts. The good news is that all the seeds germinated.
The downside was that after the first week, the roughness and other properties of the lunar soil caused weeds to grow more slowly than seedlings planted in fake lunar soil from Earth. Most of the “moon” plants turned out to be undersized.
The longer the soil was exposed to cosmic radiation and solar wind on the Moon, the worse it affected plant growth.
According to scientists, the Apollo 11 samples that were exposed to the elements for a couple of billion years longer were the least favorable for growth.
“It’s a big step forward to realize that you can grow plants,” said Simon Gilroy, a space plant biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the study.
“The real next step is to go and do it on the surface of the moon.”
The lunar soil is full of tiny glass shards from micrometeor impacts that hit the Apollo lunar landers everywhere and wore out the astronauts’ spacesuits.
One solution could be to use younger geological sites on the Moon, such as lava flows.
382 kilograms of moon rocks and soil were delivered by six Apollo crews. Most of the lunar cache remained closed for a long time, so the researchers experimented with soil from volcanic ash on Earth.
Finally, NASA gave 12 grams to University of Florida researchers last year, and the long-awaited planting took place last May in the lab.
Florida scientists hope to recycle their lunar soil later this year by planting more watercress, and then they will move on to other vegetation.
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