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Scientists grow plants in lunar soil brought by from Apollo missions

In their first attempt, scientists have successfully grown plants in a small lunar soil sample brought by astronauts during the Apollo missions.

Researchers at the University of Florida had spent 11 years requesting permission from Nasa to borrow some of the lunar dust brought back by astronauts on the first manned Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions in 1969 and the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Armstrong and Aldrin brought back 21.6kg of material including 50 rocks, samples of dust and two cores of rock after boring 13cm down into the Moon’s surface. They contained no water and no signs of life.

…The lunar samples are deemed to be of “incalculable historical and scientific significance”, so the scientists were given only 12 grams, just a few teaspoons’ full, to work with and had to design a miniature experiment.

The researchers used thimble-sized wells in a dish usually used for growing cells as miniature plant pots and filled each with about one gram of lunar soil. They moistened the soil with water and a solution of nutrients and added a small number of seeds from the Arabidopsis thaliana plant, a common flowering weed also known as mouse-ear or thale cress. [emphasis mine]

The plants grew, but were smaller and took longer to grow then plants on even the most extreme environments on Earth. The scientists also found that plants did better in buried lunar soil then the material on the surface that had been exposed to the harsh radiation of space, suggesting that plowing the soil before planting will enhance growth.

The highlighted words in the quote above illustrate the madness of NASA’s bureaucracy. These lunar samples were brought back so that scientists could study it, not so that it could be locked away in a vault forever never to be touched. To make this very intelligence experiment wait 11 years before getting permission is absurd.

Conscious Choice cover

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12 comments

  • John hare

    Waiting a half century to start an experiment seems absurd.

  • Concerned

    Same fake scientists that will lobby to prevent humans from going to Mars, for fear of “contamination”, or “planetary protection”.

  • Edward

    These lunar samples were brought back so that scientists could study it, not so that it could be locked away in a vault forever never to be touched. To make this very intelligence experiment wait 11 years before getting permission is absurd.

    This wasn’t one of the first experiments that they did with the lunar soil? Apparently, NASA wasn’t as eager to go back to the Moon as we had thought, all these decades.

    I do not think that I saw any kind of “control” groups, plants grown alongside them but in Earth soil or hydroponically in order to compare growth rates. Considering the length of time it took to get a small lunar soil sample, this may have been a missed opportunity.

  • Jeff Wright

    Clearly, the Apollo 18 horror-I mean historical documents had some effect.

  • GaryMike

    Hmm. Space Weed grow houses in lava tube green houses fed by solar panel farms and processed lunar water ice.

    “Dude, I’m really sorry I forgot to sufficiently dog the outer airlock hatch. My bad.”

    “I guess we’ll have to start over.”

  • Lee S

    I’m guessing that permission was finally given when the light dawned on the marble heads that lunar samples will soon be returning on a regular basis.

    I fully expect private business to start shipping moon rocks back to earth in the relatively near future… There is a very viable business case to be made for lunar sample return missions, although I doubt I will be around to have a moon rock sitting next to my meteorite collection.

  • BtB’s Original Mark

    Lunar soil grown pot could be a big business in the future. For those future entrepreneurs who believe in Capitalism in Space here are some product names to consider (if any are a big hit send a small cut of profits to the future Behind the Black Foundation).
    Walking On The Moon
    Moondance
    Harvest Moon
    Pink Moon
    Bark at the Moon
    Neon Moon
    Howling At The Moon
    Moonlight Shadow
    Blue Moon
    Hollow Moon
    Moon Trance

  • pawn

    Well there’s also a way at looking at this as most scientists that have studied this have previously concluded that lunar dust or “soil” as they call it here is worthless as a plant growth media.

    There also a story that goes around about some scientist taking a bunch of it home and putting it in his microwave. Seems that little experiment started something of interest.

  • Joe

    The time to get the materials for this experiment are crazy stupid. As far as missed opportunities, are the scientists on this experiment using an old farm technique of tilling under some of the plants they grew to help enrich the regolith? That would be an interesting long term study. Can you take lunar dust and make it a viable medium for plants to thrive? It would certainly be faster and cheaper than trying to genetically engineer plants to grow on the moon. Who knows what will happen to them in lunar gravity.

  • Star Bird

    I cant wait to see the Pea-pods like maybe Invasion of the Body Snatchers for real

  • pzatchok

    You can not just till in the plants.
    Remember that the plants grow by drawing stuff out of the soil. By tilling them back in your just putting that same stuff back in. Maybe a little changed for a better organic material but essentially the same stuff goes back.

    In order to organically break down anything in the soil you need to first add all the bugs and microbes we have on earth.

    The other problem with lunar soil(rigolith) is it needs to be dulled so it does not cut and damage roots. With out natural weathering it stays very sharp like broken glass.
    The men who went to the moon experienced far more ware and tear from the dust than they ever expected. It almost cut through some areas of their suits.

    It can be done but its not easy or quick.

  • Steven Carleton

    SpaceX or other enterprises will make big money selling lunar materials returned from the moon.
    Could even cover the cost of the mission…

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