A research team out of the University of Florida sprouted the greens using 50-year-old lunar soil—and were shocked by the results.
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soil from the moon growing a plant
Credit: Courtesy of the University of Florida

NASA has put astronauts on the Moon six times—and thanks to these celestial excursions, scientists back here on Earth have been able to learn more about how to sustain life in outer space. Most recently, a team of researchers out of the University of Florida grew plants from soil collected during the Apollo missions. Their findings might help us grow food and produce oxygen on the Moon.

The scientists planted seeds in the soil that the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 astronauts gathered between 1969 and 1972. They added water, provided nutrients, and introduced some light—and got the seed to sprout into an edible spring salad. This "lunar garden" grew with just 12 grams of the dirt from NASA's collection.

The team was initially skeptical that the plants would sprout, since the soil originated from space. "We were amazed. We did not predict that," said Professor Anna-Lisa Paul, the study co-author. "That told us that the lunar soils didn't interrupt the hormones and signals involved in plant germination." Their findings helped establish how researchers can grow in the future on and from space. "Plants helped establish that the soil samples brought back from the moon did not harbor pathogens or other unknown components that would harm terrestrial life, but those plants were only dusted with the lunar regolith and were never actually grown in it," Paul added.

"For future, longer space missions, we may use the moon as a hub or launching pad. It makes sense that we would want to use the soil that's already there to grow plants," said Professor Rob Ferl, another study co-author. "So, what happens when you grow plants in lunar soil, something that is totally outside of a plant's evolutionary experience? What would plants do in a lunar greenhouse? Could we have lunar farmers?"

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