Growing plants on the Moon

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

space plant growth
Plants are grown on the International Space Station.

NASA’s Lunar Growth Habitat team is planning to grow plants on the Moon in 2015. Combining the talents of scientists, students, and volunteers, NASA will attempt to use coffee-can-sized aluminum containers to grow sunflowers, basil, and turnips on the moon. The mini habitats will have to regulate their own temperature, power supply, and water levels to survive the lunar weather.

If these space gardeners succeed, it will mark the first time humans have ever brought life to another planetary body. What’s especially unique about this experiment, is that NASA’s involving schools and “citizen scientists” like you and me. Schools will be sent a set of habitats to grow the same kinds of plants that’ll be sprouting on the Moon, to compare the differences between them.

NASA has already conducted many experiments with space plants, because the influence of gravity is so different from Earth. Hydroponics is a method of raising plant life without soil, and several studies have examined the best ways to keep the greenery healthy in the unfriendly conditions beyond our planet.

So, how much is all this going to cost? Well, according to Dr. Chris McKay, a well-known planetary scientist, this kind of mega project would have cost $300 million if it was attempted 20 years ago. Today, it can be put together for under $2 million! That’s because NASA’s partnering with the private space industry (companies that don’t rely on government funding as much as NASA), and the winner of the Google Lunar X Prize will likely carry the plants. The competition, run by the search engine giant, is going to grant $20 million to a private company if they can launch a robotic spacecraft that lands on the Moon, travels its surface, and sends two “Mooncasts” back to Earth by December 13, 2015.

Images courtesy of NASA