NASA dreams of an alien colony. Crops will need to be grown there on site.

 NASA dreams of an alien colony.

NASA dreams of an alien colony. Crops will need to be grown there on site.

Twelve grams of lunar earth delivered in a very postal package: Robert Ferl, a biologist at the University of Florida, had to attend over ten years for it. the tiny box, stamped by NASA, contained a number of the last unopened samples of lunar dust or regolith, collected by Apollo astronauts at the time.This allowed Ferl and his team to grow plants in real lunar soil for the first time.

The experiment is part of a series of studies by NASA. The organization plans to send people to the moon later this decade and build an outpost there. The mission should become a dress rehearsal for future trips to Mars. For such longer missions, astronauts will need a sustainable food source.

To test the lunar Earth, Ferl divided the samples into twelve 900-milligram jars. He planted seeds of Arabidopsis thaliana, a hardy relative of mustard and cabbage. All seeds germinated successfully, but a healthy root system was often left behind.

The plants couldn’t really thrive. The regolith contained too much salt and metal for that. Moondust also lacks a natural microbiome, which promotes nutrient absorption. And if water is added to it, regolite can become as compact as cement.

Perhaps future moon farmers will have to fertilize their regolith. They will need to add nutrients or compost crops. That should promote the growth of microbes. Moreover, scientists suspect that the lunar soil is even more fertile than that of the Red Planet. Martian regolith is full of perchlorate, an oxidative compound that can be harmful to both plants and animals.

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