April 18, 2008

Marigolds Could Grow In Lunar Rock

A team of researchers with the European Space Agency has proven that marigolds are able to grow out of crushed rock similar in composure to the surface of the moon.

The new research, presented at the European Geosciences Union (EGU) meeting in Vienna, has some experts hoping that it carries implications of future human habitation.

Bernard Foing, a senior scientist with the European Space Research and Technology Centre (Estec) in the Netherlands, said that learning to grow plants on the Moon could teach researchers even more about how life adapts to lunar conditions.

"We would bring a system of water circulation and recovery, which is also the type of system that in any case you want to develop when you are going to manufacture a primitive sort of life support system," he said.

"So it is also a kind of `technological breadboard' for maintaining a simple life form in an extreme environment."

Some ESA officials, however, seem less enthused about the idea. One of the agency's senior officials has dismissed the idea as "science fiction."

Experiments at the EGU reportedly removed the need for nutrients from the Earth's soil. Natasha Kozyrovska and Iryna Zaetz, from the National Academy of Sciences, led the team of researchers in Kiev that planted marigolds in crushed anorthosite.

Initially, the plants were unable to sustain healthy life, but after the researchers added bacteria that helped them gain essential elements from the soil, the plants began to thrive.

Foing said that scientists could potentially design strains that would be well adapted to life on the Moon.

Global attention has returned to exploration of the Moon with new technological advances.

Europe sent its Smart 1 probe to the lunar surface in 2006.

China's Chang'e 1 and Japan's Kaguya orbiters both launched last year, and India's Chandrayaan 1 is expected to launch this year.

The U.S. has set its sights on returning humans to the lunar surface by 2020, while the ESA is set to make a decision on a plan called Moon Next, which would probably deploy a roving vehicle around 2015.

We are considering whether we could do this on some precursor robotic mission, even before we consider putting people on the Moon," Foing said.

"It is viable within the timeframe of Moon Next."


Image Caption: "Moon marigolds": The plants in the two pots on the left were grown with bacteria; the third without. The soil was made to mimic that on the lunar surface.


On the Net:


International Lunar Exploration Working Group

European Geosciences Union (EGU)