Long-term colonization of the Moon will require settlers to grow much of their own food, and they won’t have any soil rich in organic matter to start with. Hydroponics is one alternative. Growing plans in mineral-rich lunar regolith is another.
Dutch researchers with Wageningen University & Research have been testing a variety of vegetables to see how well they fare in regolith — tomatoes, rye, watercress, leeks, quinoa, peas, radish, spinach, arugula and chives.
The researchers couldn’t use real lunar regolith, but they created a substitute with similar chemical composition from volcanic ash near Flagstaff, Arizona. (To simulate Martian material, they found ash from Hawaii.) Regolith has only a small amount of reactive nitrogen, a critical element for life, and it can store only 30% as much water as organic Earth soil can.
The researchers set up trays containing the lunar regolith, Martian regolith and Earth soil, watered them each day, and studied the results over five months. Their findings, according to Smithsonianmagazine:
Radishes, cress and rye could be harvested and produce seeds.
China may not have been the first nation to land a human on the Moon, but it was the first to land a plant on Earth’s satellite and prompt it to germinate. The Chang’e 4 lunar lander held a small tank containing plant seeds. And now, a Chinese scientific team has announced, a cotton seed has sprouted.
Scientists aboard the International Space Station regularly tend plants to study had microgravity effects growth. But the closest terrestrial vegetation has come to the Moon was in 1981 when Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Rosa carried hundreds of tree seeds to orbit the Moon with him. Many were planted back on Earth, becoming “Moon Trees,” reports Space.com.
The Chinese lander also contains seeds to grow potatoes and Arabidopsis, a common lab plant, but neither have sprouted so far. The Chang’e 4 lander, perched inside Von Karman Crater on the far side of the Moon, is accompanied by the Yutu 2 rover. Both robots are experiencing their first long, cold night on the Oon. Daytime and nighttime each last about two Earth weeks.