NASA is sending seeds to the moon in an attempt to grow plants there -- and to find out whether humans can live for long periods on the celestial body.
NASA said seedlings can be as sensitive as humans to environmental conditions. They are to test the lunar environment for humans as they also carry genetic material that can be damaged by radiation.
“If we send plants and they thrive, then we probably can,” NASA said in a statement. “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.”
The seeds, including arabidopsis, basil and turnips, will be put inside a container called the Lunar Plant Growth Chamber, which will carry enough air for 10 days. The air in the chamber is said to be sufficient to allow the seeds to sprout and grow for five days.
NASA said the mission is scheduled to be launched in 2015 as part of the Moon Express lander, which is a commercial project to land on the lunar surface.
“After landing in late 2015, water will be added to the seeds in the module and their growth will be monitored for five to 10 days and compared to Earth-based controls,” NASA said. “This will be the first life sciences experiment on another world and an important first step in the utilization of plants for human life support. Follow-up experiments will improve the technology in the growth module and allow for more extensive plant experiments.”
NASA said it will use natural sunlight on the moon for plant germination, and the seeds would be allowed to grow on pieces of filter paper with dissolved nutrients. The seedlings will be photographed at intervals to compare with growth in Earth controls.
The moon’s surface, naturally, is the only location where the effects of both lunar gravity and lunar radiation on plant growth can be studied. Scientists believe that eventual human exploration of the moon will require plant growth systems for life support.