November 29, 2013
NASA Project Looks To Grow Turnips And Basil On The Moon
NASA is planning to take its exploration of the moon to a new level by sowing the first seeds on the lunar surface by 2015. The space agency said it plans to develop a very simple sealed growth chamber that can support germination over a five to 10 day period in a spacecraft on the moon.“If we send plants and they thrive, then we probably can. Thriving plants are needed for life support (food, air, water) for colonists. And plants provide psychological comfort, as the popularity of the greenhouses in Antarctica and on the Space Station show,” NASA said in a description of the experiment.
The experiment could be able to hitch a ride on a commercial spacecraft developed for the Google Lunar X-Prize in 2015. The self-contained habitat is small, so it would be easy to fit in as a payload on the commercial lunar lander.
“After landing in late 2015, water will be added to the seeds in the module and their growth will be monitored for 5-10 days and compared to Earth based controls,” NASA said.
The space agency is planning to send Arabidopsis, basil, and turnip seeds on the payload. This will be the first life sciences experiment on another world and an important step in the utilization of plants for human life support. Follow up experiments will help improve the technology in the growth module and allow for more extensive plant experiments.
Plant growth on Earth has been well studied, and there has also been a lot of research done in understanding plant growth in microgravity on the Space Shuttles and International Space Station. However, the surface of the Moon is the only location on which the effects of lunar gravity and lunar radiation can be studied.
After the spacecraft delivers the experiment, a trigger would release a small reservoir of water wetting the filter paper containing the seeds, which would initiate germination. The air in the sealed container would be adequate for more than five days of growth. Natural sunlight on the moon would be used as a source of illumination for plant germination as a first in situ resource utilization demonstration.
“Eventually human exploration of the Moon will require plant growth systems for life support. Germination is the first step in plant growth and thus forms the focus of this first experiment,” NASA said.
Scientists will also be looking into phototropism and circumnutation. Data from the experiment would include growth rate, expressed as leaf area, over time. This would be extracted from images of the plant growth area. The plant growth and movement on the Moon will be compared to similar data from Earth controls in identical growth units.
After this experiment demonstrates germination and initial growth in lunar gravity and radiation, NASA will look to see if the plants can sprout in the environment within 14 days. If this does occur, then scientists expect sexual reproduction will occur in the lunar environment in 60 days. Survival to 180 days would show effects of radiation on dominant & recessive genetic traits.