Could Plants Grow on the Moon?

Liz Filmer
18 May 2022

A US research team have succeeded in growing plants in soil brought back from the moon by Nasa's Apollo astronauts. Researchers wanted to explore if it could be successfully used to grow food for future generations of lunar explorers and dwellers. It was not guaranteed that anything would sprout in the harsh moon dirt. 

Robert Ferl of the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and his team planted thale cress in moon soil returned from lunar expeditions last May. To their surprise, the seeds sprouted.

Unfortunately, following the first week, the inhospitable properties of the lunar soil appeared to stress the small plants to the extent that their growth slowed to the point where they were utterly stunned.

The published results showed that the longer the soil was faced with harsh cosmic radiation and solar wind conditions on the moon, the worse the plant growth and development were.

According to the research team, the samples from the Apollo 11 mission were the least facilitative for growth. The reason being that these samples had been exposed to the elements for a few billion years longer.

Moon dirt is full of tiny glass fragments accumulated from the micrometeorite crashes constantly occurring in space.

Researchers believe that one solution to get hold of more promising samples of moon dirt may be to pinpoint and use more youthful geologic plots on the moon so that the amount of harsh material in the ground is minimised as much as possible. The environment, of course, also be experimented with, as could the lighting conditions. 

Six Apollo crews brought 842 pounds of moon rocks and soil back from the moon. Most of which are still under lock and key. Nasa only donated a total of 12 grams to the University of Florida researchers early last year. 

Although it may only seem like a small breakthrough, it is crucial. Something that could increase our understanding of the environment and climate on the moon and other planets in our solar system and whether they have the potential to sustain life. It may even teach us something we don't know about growing plants in our environment on earth.

Knowing that you can grow plants in moon dirt is a big step. However, the next big step indeed is to go and do it on the surface of the moon itself.



Liz Filmer