Gardening On The Moon


Gardening On The Moon

Gardening on the moon? Does this sound like sci-fi to you? It does to us too—but NASA is out to make it a reality. “Our goal is to show that the living organism can thrive in what really is a hostile environment,” says Bob Bowman, one of the plant scientists involved in the project. With the sun-facing side of the moon sizzling at 150 degrees Farenheit and the Dark Side frigid at 150 below, “hostile” seems like an understatement, but NASA has designed a plant habitat canister intended to protect plants from the harshness of the moon’s environment, cosmic radiation and lack of gravity.

The innovative gardening high-tech terrarium Bowman and his colleagues have designed for the propagation of turnips, basil and cress on the moon contains seeds, nutrient-rich paper and enough air and water for those seeds to germinate and grow. The canister also includes light-and-temperature-regulation systems and cameras so that researchers can track the plants’ progress. The entire terrarium is roughly the size of a coffee canister and weighs only a kilogram.

Once the terrarium lands on the moon, a trigger will release the small reservoir of water to wet the nutrient paper and initiate germination. The air inside it is enough for more than five days of growth, according to scientists, with no additional air supply or air processing necessary. Scientists plan to photograph the seed at intervals with sufficient resolution to compare with growth in Earth controls.

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NASA plans to send these off some time in 2015 aboard The Lander, a commercial spacecraft in the Google Lunar X Prize.

It will be interesting to see whether plants can grow in space, but the bigger question this experiment poses—and will perhaps begin to answer—is whether or not humans will be able to eventually live and farm in outer space. Plants, like people, are more sensitive to environmental conditions in the infantile stage. Genetic material can theoretically be damaged by space radiation and changes in gravitational pull. But, as NASA spokespeople put it, if the plants we send are able to flourish, then the likelihood of humanity being able to thrive is high as well.

So, a garden colony on the moon where a human population can depend on plant life to live out their days? As we kick off the first genuine science experiment on another world, the realization of this sci-fi vision suddenly doesn’t seem so far off.

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