Nasa plans plants on the moon.
LONDON: US’s Nasa has announced plans to grow plants on the moon in 2015. They are constructing a small technology demonstration unit to study germination of plants in lunar gravity and radiation on the Moon.
The self-contained habitat will have a mass of about 1 kg and would be transported on a commercial spacecraft – the Moon Express Lander.After landing in late 2015, water will be added to the seeds and their growth will be monitored for 5-10 days and compared to Earth based controls.
Seeds will include arabidopsis, basil and turnips. 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, Nasa said.”As seedlings they can be as sensitive as humans to environmental conditions sometimes even more so. 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. If we send plants and they thrive then we probably can. Thriving plants are needed for life support (food, air, water) for colonists. And plants provide psychological comfort as the popularity of the greenhouses in Antarctica and on the Space Station show,” Nasa said.
Nasa will first develop a very simple sealed growth chamber that can support germination over a 5-10 day period in a spacecraft on the Moon.
Filter paper with dissolved nutrients inside the container can support 100 seeds of Arabidopsis and 10 seeds each of basil and turnips. Upon landing on the Moon a trigger would release a small reservoir of water wetting the filter paper and initiating germination of the seeds.
The air in the sealed container would be adequate to for more than five days of growth. No additional air supply or air processing would be necessary. The seedlings would be photographed at intervals with sufficient resolution to compare with growth in Earth controls.
“We would use the natural sunlight on the moon as the source of illumination for plant germination. Plant growth at Earth gravity has been well studied and there has been a lot of research on plant growth in microgravity on Shuttle and Space Station.
The surface of the Moon however is the only location in which the effects of both lunar gravity and lunar radiation on plant growth can be studied. Eventually human exploration of the Moon will require plant growth systems for life support. Germination is the first step in plant growth and thus forms the focus of this first experiment,” Nasa said.
It added, “The basic data from the experiment would be the growth rate, expressed as leaf area, over time. This would be extracted from 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).
The growth and movement of the plants on the Moon would be compared to similar data from Earth controls in identical growth units.”