Can plants grow on the moon?

Lunar Plants Research Documentation, Via NASA

Can plants grow in a barren landscape such as the surface of the moon? If so, what types of plants will grow on the moon. Can we eat them? Could enough plants grow to support a future colony on the moon? Maybe these plants could grow on Mars too? Emiratis plan on living on Mars as much as Elon Musk. NASA has already shown that plants can grow on simulated moon soil. What’s the next step? The moon itself.

An Israeli and Australian team are going to launch a hydroponic system to the moon, called Lunariums, to see if plants will grow under controlled conditions on the moon’s surface. They will launch 2025 via an Israeli probe that will be going to the moon.

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Lunariums hope to help grow food on the moon to see if plants will grow on lunar soil

These are the ambitious questions the Lunaria One consortium has set out to answer. An experiment proposed by Lunaria One, known as Aleph, was selected by SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit aerospace organization, to be included as one of the payloads on board their Beresheet2 lander. Beresheet means Genesis in Hebrew. Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 

We covered SpaceIL more than 10 years ago when they first started dreaming about lunar research.

The Beresheet2 mission, planned to launch in mid-2025, will consist of two landers alighting on each side of the moon and an orbiter that will continue to orbit the moon for up to 5 years.

space plants, moon soil, NASA

NASA grows plants on volcanic soil and a medium resembling moon soil (right). 

Aleph will consist of a tray of seeds and dehydrated plants, a way to rehydrate and water them (a form of hydroponics), heaters, and cameras to monitor the plants. Israelis are specialists in hydroponic farming since most of their greenhouse crops in effect grow this way using a sand/soil medium, nutrients and irrigation.

Prof. Simon Barak at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, is coordinating all the plant biologists and imaging specialists.

Space food – growing food on the moon

Shimon Sarid, SpaceIL CEO says: “The chosen experiment has enormous value both for our life here on Earth and for humanity’s progress in space exploration. Examining plant growth under extreme conditions will help us as far as food security is concerned. Plant growth in extreme conditions will help humanity in the long-term.”

Growing plants on the moon means overcoming several challenges such as massive temperature swings on the way to the moon, a water supply for the plants, and high temperatures when growing the plants. The plant types will need to be those that can germinate and grow to an appropriate size for imaging within 72 hours of deployment.

Matt Damon, grows potatoes, mars movie, food in space, elon musk, spaceIL, lunariums

NASA has been growing potatoes in Mars-like conditions since the 80s using hydroponics. Plants also grow on international space stations. Here, Matt Damon shows how he grows potatoes on Mars in the science fiction movie, The Martian

In the meantime, they expect their plant selections to be relevant for vertical farming, regenerative farming, and resource challenged landscapes here on Earth. Growing plants and food in the desert under our climate crisis is a growing global concern.

“The motivation for this mission comes from humanity’s passion to explore and see life thrive in barren landscapes,” explains Prof. Barak. “We see the Aleph payload as an important step towards our eventual goal of providing plants for food, medicine, oxygen production, CO2-scrubbing and general wellbeing for future astronauts inhabiting the moon and beyond.”

Simon Barak, growing plants on the moon

Prof. Simon Barak (right) with students. Ben Gurion University

“The central value guiding this project is that space exploration is for everyone; we don’t want a future where only autonomous and remote-controlled machines inhabit realms beyond earth, but where humans can live and thrive. The key to this is to get humans involved and to give them a say in how we get there. The ALEPH project aims to open up the science and engineering behind growing life on the Moon so that anyone can be involved,” explains Lunaria One Director Lauren Fell.

The project also has a strong citizen science component. Parallel science experiments will be carried out by amateurs (for example, high school students) and professionals to compare growth to that on the Moon.

Additional universities participating in Lunaria One include: QUT, RMIT, and ANU in Australia and The University of Cape Town in South Africa.

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