Plants have been grown in lunar soil for the first time – a milestone for lunar and space exploration.
Researchers from the University of Florida found that thale cress, Arabidopsis thaliana, can successfully sprout and grow in soil collected from the moon.
The findings could lay the foundation for growing plants that supply food and oxygen on the moon.
Rob Ferl, one of the co-authors of the study, said: “Showing that plants will grow in lunar soil is actually a huge step in that direction of being able to establish ourselves in lunar colonies.”
Although Arabidopsis is edible, it is not tasty. The plant belongs to the same family as mustard, cauliflower and broccoli.
Anna-Lisa Paul, another of the study’s co-authors, said: “The plants that were responding the most strongly to what we call oxidative stress responses, those are the ones especially in the Apollo 11 samples, they are the ones that turned purple.
“That’s the same thing in blueberries and cranberries.”
The discovery comes as NASA plans to return humans to the moon as part of the Artemis programme later this decade.
The researchers added water, light and nutrients to 12 grams of lunar soil while analysing the growth.
The team applied to Nasa three times in 11 years for the opportunity to work with the sample and only received it 18 months ago.
Although all the plants sprouted, some were various colours, sizes and grew slower than others. To make comparisons, some were planted in soil from Earth.
The study was published in the journal Communications Biology.