A scientific breakthrough, published on Thursday in the journal Communications Biology, has provided researchers with optimism that it may one day be able to cultivate plants straight on the Moon.
For the first time, scientists have cultivated seedlings in lunar soil carried back by astronauts in the Apollo mission.
Researchers said they sowed seeds of Arabidopsis thaliana, a little flowering weed, in 12 tiny thimble-sized pots each containing a gram of lunar soil, and saw them germinate and grow on Thursday.
Since lunar regolith differs substantially from Earth soil in terms of pointed particles and lack of organic content, it was unclear whether seeds would sprout.
"It stole our breath away when we first observed the abundance of green sprouts thrown across all of the samples," said Anna-Lisa Paul, president of the University of Florida Interdisciplinary Center for Biotechnology Research and co-leader of the study released in the journal Communications Biology.
Meanwhile, the authors of the study from the University of Florida say there is still a lot more research to be done on the subject, and they plan to leave no questions unanswered.
"This research is crucial to NASA's long-term human spaceflight aspirations," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated. "Food options for future astronauts living and working in deep space will have to be developed using resources available on the Moon and Mars."
The researchers used only 12 grams of lunar dirt collected from various locations on the Moon during the Apollo 11, 12, and 17 flights for their study.
However, differences began to emerge after that: the plants in the lunar specimens grew slower and had shorter roots.
The scientists collected all of the plants after 20 days and studied their DNA. The lunar plants behaved similarly to those produced in adverse settings, such as soil with too much salt or toxic substances, according to their research.
Scientists want to know how to make this ecosystem more favorable in the future.
As part of the Artemis mission, NASA is planning to return to the Moon with the long-term objective of promoting a permanent human settlement on its surface.
NASA's Artemis quests will bring the very first woman and person of color to the Moon, allowing them to research more of the lunar ground than it has ever been.
NASA will build the first long-term foothold on the Moon in collaboration with commercial and foreign partners. Then, using what they've learned on and across the Moon, they'll take the next major step and send the first men to Mars.