Between 1961 and 1972, on a total of 14 Apollo program missions, NASA scientists were able to test key technology used to bring astronauts to the moon and back. The Apollo missions also brought back 842 pounds of lunar rocks, core samples, sand and dust from the lunar surface, which reseachers can request for study. In a historic first, a group of University of Florida scientists have grown plants in a small portion of this soil from the moon.
While the plants were slow to develop and appeared stressed, the groundbreaking experiment proved that thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), and perhaps other species like the model organism, could sprout and grow in soil unlike that on Earth's, reports Gizmodo's George Dvorsky. The biologists behind this new study spent 11 years sending NASA formal requests for the soil. "Once we knew the minimum we could work with, one gram per plant, we knew how much to ask for," the team told Gizmodo. "In order to make the study statistically robust, we needed four plants per lunar sample. That formed the basis of our request to NASA for samples."
Their study, published this month in Communications Biology, describes how plants growing in the lunar regolith collected during the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions exhibited stress responses similar to plants reacting to salt, metal and reactive oxygen species. While less than ideal, the results may help lay the foundation for growing plants that supply food and oxygen on the moon, CNN's Ashley Strickland reports.