NASA will send plants to the moon by 2015 in an attempt to create a suitable habitat for human beings.
In conjunction with the Google Lunar X competition, NASA will send plants to the Moon to test if they can thrive in partial gravity and lunar radiation. The move is the first step of many in a long-term process to stabilize an Earth-like habitat on the barren satellite.
“This will be the first life sciences experiment on another world and an important first step in the utilization of plants for human life support,” said NASA officials in a press release.
Before the lunar landing, NASA officials will be conducting experiments to better predict the outcome of how plants will grow in a seemingly unsuitable environment. According to NASA, scientists are constructing a small technology demonstration unit, or module, to study the germination of plants in lunar gravity and radiation. NASA will be sending duplicate module habitats to schools across America, so that children in K-12 schools can monitor the same plants being sent to the moon.
On the journey abroad, a self-contained habitat with the mass of about 1g and will hitchhike a ride on the Moon Express, a commercial lunar lander. Plants will experience five days of Earth-like air and water conditions.
“After landing in late 2015, water will be added to the seeds in the module and their growth will be monitored for 5-10 days and compared to Earth based controls,” said NASA officials. “Seeds will include Arabidopsis, basil, and turnips.”
According to The Independent, scientists will run into complications while encouraging plant growth in a harsh environment. Recently, International Space Station payloads have been able to simulate partial gravity, giving scientists some clue as to how plants can function on the Moon. However, the surface of the Moon is the only location in which the effects of both lunar gravity and lunar radiation can be felt. Therefore, the full study will take place on the surface of the Moon. The basic data from the experiment will be the growth rate, expressed as leaf area, over time, and be obtained through images of the plant growth area.
“In addition image data would be collected to investigate both phototropism (plant motion in response to changes in position of the light source) and circumnutation (plant circular motion),” said NASA officials.
The experiment will help NASA learn more about how plants grow in outside environments, and will also explore whether human habitats can be expanded beyond our home planet. If plants can successfully thrive on the moon, then we probably can. Thriving plants are needed for life support in the form of food, air and water. In the wake of a planet faced with the mass death of rainforests, scientists are seriously seeking alien environments to sustain human life.
“Can humans live and work on the moon? Not just visit for a few days but stay for decades? A first step in long term presence is to send plants,” said NASA officials. “They carry genetic material that can be damaged by radiation as can that of humans. They can test the lunar environment for us, acting as a ‘canary in a coal mine.'”