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Plants can grow on the moon but some tinkering is needed for vegetation to thrive, according to a new study on lunar soil.
University of Florida researchers recently grew small plants using lunar rock and soil samples taken from the Apollo missions decades ago, the Washington Post reported.
NASA provided the research team with 12 grams of soil – four each from the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions – which had never been exposed to Earth’s atmosphere or water.
The team tried to plant seeds of the fast-growing thale cress but found that the samples were extremely hydrophobic – they repelled water – and lacked nutrients. To resolve this, they combined the extraterrestrial soil with a nutrient solution.
The plants then germinated and began to sprout leaves even though some of them struggled: Plants planted in samples collected from the Apollo 11 mission had the toughest time growing, for example.
Even though they were edible, the researchers noted that the plants disliked lunar soil and their roots turned out “more bent and gnarly.”
Still, the authors concluded that while lunar soil is “not a benign growth substrate,” it could still be used by astronauts in the future to attempt plant production on the moon, even though it would require a lot of work due to its lack of numerous minerals found on earth.
“I think it’s amazing that the plant still grew,” co-author Robert Ferl said. “Right, it’s stressed, but it doesn’t die. It doesn’t fail to grow at all. It adapts.”