Researchers plan to grow plants sustainably on the Moon within three years

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Despite the setbacks of the Artemis mission, Man continues to hope and dream of a lasting human presence on the Moon. Australian academics say a project to grow plants on the latter, by 2025, could lay the groundwork for this lunar colonization if successful. The results of these experiments will also help to feed, on Earth, populations in difficulty or victims of natural disasters related to the climate crisis, in particular by determining the most resistant plants.

In space, energy, food, water, and resources are limited. This makes it an ideal testing ground for developing innovative, practical and sustainable strategies that are replicable on Earth. In fact, by targeting the Moon, researchers have the possibility of developing experiments to test the ability of plants to grow in this harsh environment, similar to the conditions found during natural disasters (droughts, fires, etc.).

That is why the Australian National University (ANU), together with the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the University of Melbourne (RMIT), are joining forces on an ambitious mission led by the Australian space company Lunaria One. is to grow plants on the Moon as early as 2025, under the name “Australian Experiment Promoting Lunar Horticulture” (ALEPH).

Project scientists first want to determine whether plants can not only tolerate but also thrive on the lunar surface. The project is a first step toward growing plants for the production of food, medicine, and oxygen, all of which are essential for the sustainable establishment of human life on the Moon. It will also be an important step forward for future missions to Mars, launched from Earth’s natural satellite.

A first lunar trip in 2025

In April 2022, Lunaria One was selected to participate in a commercial flight to the surface of the Moon in early 2025, led by the Israeli organization SpaceIL, aboard the Bereshit 2 spacecraft.

Lunaria One aims to send out a carefully selected set of seeds and plants, based on their speed of germination and their tolerance for extreme temperature variations found in space. They will also have to withstand the conditions present during the transit to the Moon, as well as on the surface.

Specifically, a sealed capsule will be used for the experiment. The latter will contain the seeds, systems that will ensure their irrigation and nutrient supply, as well as monitoring tools (sensors and a camera). By depositing this material on the Moon’s surface, the team aims to demonstrate germination and/or growth from a dormant plant state within the first 72 hours after landing.

One of the plants considered for the mission is a native Australian herb known as Trypogon loliiformis, which can withstand harsh conditions. In fact, this group of hardy plants, called desiccation-tolerant plants (or resurrection plants), can resist water loss to a desiccated state and regain full metabolic capacity within 72 hours of rehydration.

Trypogon loliiformis, a resurrection plant candidate for the Moon mission. © Harry Rose/Wikimedia

Dr. Brett Williams, a plant biologist at QUT, said in a statement: “ Even after losing more than 95% of its relative water content, grass that appears dead remains alive and pre-existing tissue thrives when given water Caitlyn Byrt, a plant biologist at ANU and Lunaria One’s chief scientist, even believes that this resurrection plant is capable of withstanding harsh conditions and surviving in a dormant state without water for months.

Lunar results applicable on Earth

Caitlin Byrt notes that the mission presents a “unique” opportunity for scientists to apply knowledge of plant germination resilience to determine the types of plants that could tolerate harsh environments, such as the lunar surface. .

She adds: ” Space is an exceptional testing ground for how to propagate plants in the most extreme environments. The extreme conditions facing the Earth due to climate change present challenges on how to manage food security in the future “.

You should know that drought is an important abiotic stress that considerably reduces crop productivity. Coupled with rising temperatures related to the climate crisis, drought can reduce crop yields by up to 50%. Predictions suggest that only the hardiest species will continue to produce under future climatic conditions.

Caitlin Byrt explains: This project is important to develop propagation systems adapted to the challenges here on Earth. This includes creating controlled environments that allow communities to propagate plants quickly after natural or weather-related disasters. If you can create a system to grow plants on the Moon, then you can create a system to grow food in some of the harshest environments on Earth. “.

As mentioned above, after the moon landing, the growth and general health of the plants will be monitored for 72 hours, and the data and images will be sent back to Earth for comparison with ground-based control experiments. This data, as well as that of participating schools and universities, will also be made available through the Lunaria One website.

In fact, these sets will make it possible to constitute an international bank of control experiments. Citizen scientists and schoolchildren around the world will be invited to use the data to conduct their own experiments to identify which plant varieties have the best chance of growing on the Moon.

By sharing data and engaging students from around the world, the researchers aim to make ALEPH-1 an opportunity for everyone to contribute to the future of space exploration. Lunaria One director Lauren Fell of QUT concludes: The key to this mission is to engage humans and give them a voice in how to achieve this. The ALEPH project aims to open up the science and engineering behind [la conquête lunaire et l’établissement de] life on the moon so anyone can participate “.

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