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Moon Space Science

Growing Plants on the Moon May Be Feasible 254

Posted by Zonk
from the we-carry-a-harpoon dept.
Smivs writes "European scientists say that growing plants on the moon should be possible. Scientists in the Netherlands believe growing plants on our sister satellite would be useful as a tool to learn how life adapts to lunar conditions. It would also aid in understanding the challenges that might be faced by manned bases. 'The new step, taken in the experiments reported at the EGU, is to remove the need for bringing nutrients and soil from Earth. A team led by Natasha Kozyrovska and Iryna Zaetz from the National Academy of Sciences in Kiev planted marigolds in crushed anorthosite, a type of rock found on Earth which is very similar to much of the lunar surface. In neat anorthosite, the plants fared very badly. But adding different types of bacteria made them thrive; the bacteria appeared to draw elements from the rock that the plants needed, such as potassium.'"
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Growing Plants on the Moon May Be Feasible

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  • Huh? (Score:4, Funny)

    by powerlinekid (442532) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:13PM (#23107298)
    sister satellite

    I don't think that means what the article writer intended it to mean...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No, no, you misunderstand. The article writer is from 3753 Cruithne.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Missing_dc (1074809)
      Doesn't matter, I'm still stuck on the smart russian chicks who headed this research. I can only hope they are hot... mmmmm lets see... Skolka anna stoyet?
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      I'm not sure what you are implying. Both the Earth and the moon are satellites of the sun. The moon is also a satellite of the Earth, but that doesn't negate the fact that it's also orbiting the sun.
    • by fm6 (162816)
      TFA article doesn't use the term, just the submitter. And who knows what they meant? It's perfectly possible they don't even know the moon orbits the earth. Most people are as ignorant of astronomy as they are of geography. And they are ignorant: try asking 10 people on the street which language is spoken in Great Britain!
  • Air? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sltd (1182933)
    Don't plants need some form of air to survive? Not just rocks and bacteria? Don't see this working out.
    • by 1155 (538047)
      They can put a bubble around it, the point is to grow plants without the need to import nutrients from the earth, which would make growing plants on the moon moot. A dome can be made that can withstand the harsh conditions, and inside of the dome is enough atmosphere to sustain life.
      • Re:Air? (Score:5, Informative)

        by hey! (33014) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:56PM (#23107938) Homepage Journal
        In other words, they can build a big terrarium.

        Here's something to consider. If you have ever maintained an aquarium, you probably know that despite what common sense would tell you, the larger the aquarium is, the easier it is to keep going. True, things like water changes become logistically harder as the tank sizes get to the enormous ranges, but you build around that.

        The tricky thing about small aquariums is that the chemistry can change rapidly in a small volume of water. You've got to watch a 5 gallon tank like a hawk for things like spikes in ammonia or shifts in pH. A 50 gallon tank is quite easy for a beginner to maintain, apart from having to lug buckets of water around. If you heater goes out, or worse if it get stuck on, you're fish are dead if you don't notice it right away. In a fifty gallon tank you've got some slack.

        The logical end goal of growing plants on the Moon would be to set up a system in which the plants, given a carefully controlled start, establish an environment that achieves equilibrium without putting more resources into it. Naturally, the larger the environment is, the easier it would be to do this. Once you have established how much space you need to reach a moderately stable equilibrium, let's say it's a thousand cubic meters, you can build larger examples that actually resist moving away from their equilibrium point.

        The thing about systems in equilibrium, as any chemical engineer will tell you, is that when you take something that is part of the equilibrium out, they respond by making more of it.

        Which is just what you need to have an efficient, self sustaining environment on the Moon. Or the Earth, for that matter.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by calebt3 (1098475)
      Why? If they could get CO2 from the soil, it could work.
      • Vacuum of space tends to cause plants to, ya know, explosively decompress their component parts.
        • Re:Air? (Score:5, Informative)

          by vtscott (1089271) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:33PM (#23107596)
          If it doesn't cause humans [wikipedia.org] to explode, why would it cause plants to explode? From the link...

          Humans and animals exposed to vacuum will lose consciousness after a few seconds and die of hypoxia within minutes, but the symptoms are not nearly as graphic as commonly shown in pop culture.
    • I believe they just need CO2 from the air but some botanist is going to tell me why I'm wrong.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Oxy the moron (770724)

      I was of the understanding that plants (at least those that photosynthesize) only need water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight. Oxygen, I think, is a product of photosynthesis, not an input.

      Not that there is an abundance of H2O and CO2 on the moon, though... at least... I'm not aware of there being one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dvice_null (981029)
        > Oxygen, I think, is a product of photosynthesis, not an input

        Yes, but majority of the plants don't produce sugar/starch just for fun. They also use it to grow. And for that, they need oxygen:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respiration [wikipedia.org]

        Water on Moon has not yet been proven, but it is still possible:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_ice [wikipedia.org]

        I don't see the lack of CO2 as a problem. Let's just place a few humans there to produce CO2. Or if that is not acceptable, perhaps animals.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CRCulver (715279)

      Don't plants need some form of air to survive? Not just rocks and bacteria? Don't see this working out.

      In his trilogy beginning with Red Mars [amazon.com] , Kim Stanley Robinson points out one of the difficulties of growing anything in a terraformed environment is the poverty of the soil. Even if you've got the right kind of rock, seeding it things such as earthworms (which are apparently vital to good crop growth) is so difficult that such soil can only be manufactured at incredibly slow speeds. It's not just air,

      • Re:Air? (Score:5, Funny)

        by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:33PM (#23107600)
        Hmmm. Planting earthworms on the Moon... Moon Worms... After countless years, they will evolve better resistance to low pressure to a point where it can survive in a vaccume, resistant to full radiation from the sun, and collect all the materials it needs O2 and Water from the ground. Flurisning in this environment it will soon learn to use some of the excess gasses it digegest as a form or propulation, grow larger and larger until it reaches huge sizes where in order for them to survive they must eat moons and planets and fly to other systems in hibernation. To feed on other solar systems... Man you guys just doomed the galixy.
      • Re:Air? (Score:5, Informative)

        by dpilot (134227) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:51PM (#23107868) Homepage Journal
        Predating "Red Mars" (and even predating "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress") by a few years, Robert Heinlein wrote "Farmer in the Sky". In it he went into goodly detail about what it would take to turn bare rock into fertile soil, including earthworms and composting all of your biological waste. He had the Ganymede colony under a dome, though it was at reduced pressure.

        A friend who had also read "Farmer..." said that he'd been to Hawaii and seen their process of recovering lava fields to soil, and felt that Heinlein was right in the same ballpark, and least with the rock-crushing side of things. Obviously in a place like Hawaii it would be harder to keep life out than to start it up.
        • Re:Air? (Score:5, Informative)

          by hey! (33014) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @03:11PM (#23109142) Homepage Journal
          One interesting fact about earthworms -- they are an exotic invasive species in North America. In fact, if you ever use worms as bait, you should never just toss them away except where you got them.

          When the North American ice sheet receded, there weren't any earthworm species in most of the continent. Nature found its own equilibrium without them, with its own unique set of preferred tree and understory species. Europeans reintroduced the earthworm, and it is gradually erasing some of the distinctiveness of North American forest from European forests.

          There is no question that earthworms are beneficial in most gardens and compost heaps, and might be useful in some kind of extraterrestrial gardening experiment. Then again, they might not, depending on the design of the garden.
          • Re:Air? (Score:5, Informative)

            by ubuwalker31 (1009137) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @04:15PM (#23110062)
            Not entirely correct: Only 33% of the earthworm species in North America are exotic/introduced. Only two genera of Lumbricid earthworms are indigenous to North America while introduced genera have spread to areas where earthworms did not formerly exist, especially in the north where forest development relies on a large amount of undecayed leaf matter. (From wikipedia)
    • by Thelasko (1196535)
      I'm assuming the plants would be grown inside a pressurized building. The great breakthrough with this study is that the soil in the building would not have to be brought all the way from earth. The amount of soil would be heavy and require massive amounts of fuel to get it there. The results of this experiment suggest that we would only have to bring bacteria, air, and water.
      • The results of this experiment suggest that we would only have to bring bacteria, air, and water.

        And tacos, of course.
  • by crow (16139) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:17PM (#23107354) Homepage Journal
    We may only get one chance to do this right. If we introduce a bacteria that can survive without artificial shelter (doubtful, but possible), it's there forever. Many of the problems we've had here with invasive species has been due to things introduced intentionally that ended up doing things that weren't anticipated.

    Granted, the moon is a harsh enough environment that anything we do will probably only be in a pressurized man-made structure, but that might not be the case if we try it on Mars.
    • by JK_the_Slacker (1175625) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:20PM (#23107386) Homepage

      Did you just say that the moon is a harsh mistress?

    • Unless the bacteria can get beneath the surface, I don't see them surviving direct unfiltered contact with the sun's light. If they do get beneath ground though, they could easily keep going until the Moon runs out of food.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tygt (792974)
      We're concerned about "invasive species" here on Earth because they displace native species, or otherwise make things difficult for humans (kudzu for instance).

      If there are no native species on the moon, introducing a species which later becomes invasive may not be a bad thing at all, as you would at least have a proliferating source of organic materiel helping your efforts. However, given the extreme sparsity of the lunar atmosphere (such that you can't really call it one), I doubt you'd have much invasion
    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @02:14PM (#23108220)

      We may only get one chance to do this right. If we introduce a bacteria that can survive without artificial shelter (doubtful, but possible), it's there forever. Many of the problems we've had here with invasive species has been due to things introduced intentionally that ended up doing things that weren't anticipated.
      Holy shit, you're right! Just think of the impact an escaped bacterium could have on the lunar ecology.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Belial6 (794905)
      Actually, the problems of invasive species are due to the fact that we were relying on existing ecology, or felt that the prior ecology was better than the new ecology that forms after the introduction of the new species. I have never heard of a single instance where an 'invasive species' has made an environment toxic to the point that humans cannot live there. One of the joys of the moon is that we don't have to worry about wiping out native flora and fauna. If we introduce a species that takes over, we
    • by Kuukai (865890)

      Many of the problems we've had here with invasive species has been due to things introduced intentionally that ended up doing things that weren't anticipated.

      No, don't worry, we've got it all planned out this time. If the bacteria goes out of control, we have a bacteria-killing species of mushroom that can eradicate it. Once the mushrooms run amok, we'll just send over a batch of mushroom-eating beetles. We can introduce lizards to kill the beetles, semidomestic cats to kill the lizards, and brown bears to eat the cats. What about the bears, you ask? That's the beauty of it. Come the end of the winter cycle, the bears will just freeze.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:18PM (#23107362)
    Why wouldn't they try a plant that grows in extremely low nutrient soil? There are plenty of plants that grow in sand along beaches and generate their own food through photosynthesis (all plants do, but some rely on it more than others).

    Garden flowers are probably the worst type of plant to try to grow in nutrient-free dirt.
  • by StCredZero (169093) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:19PM (#23107380)
    Sunlight is the biggest problem. Most places on the Moon go through two weeks of darkness, and providing sunlight-equivalent illumination would be energy prohibitive. Soviet scientists have experimented with keeping plants on low artificial light at low temperatures for two weeks, alternating that with two weeks of light. Apparently, peas can grow like this.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:34PM (#23107622)
      ...that's all I'm saying...
    • by Maniakes (216039)
      It's carbon and nitrogen that I'm worried about. Plants need these elements to grow, and there's only trace amounts available on the Moon. The plants in the article got them out of the air, and I suppose we could haul big tanks of N2 and CO2 to the Moon, but you can't really bring all that much with you before the cost gets prohibitive.
  • One step closer to being able to play sports on the moon.
  • Marigolds (Score:4, Funny)

    by boristdog (133725) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:26PM (#23107490)
    Of COURSE they used marigolds.

    Now they need to study the effect of gamma rays on these plants.
  • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:26PM (#23107494) Homepage Journal
    Cheech: "Sounds like the perfect place to grow some reefer, man."

    Chong: "Like wow man, the pigs would never think to look on the moon, man."


  • Any one else get this image in there head when they read the header ? Plant can't survive on lunar soil so it bonds with some symbiotic mars bacteria and starts eating human flesh ?? no ??

    • by CogDissident (951207) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:37PM (#23107670)
      I'm too much of a nerd, immediately thinking that "Hey, human flesh doesn't actually have enough nutrients in it that plants need in their current form. They'd have to kill us, then plant themselves in us and get the nutrients from us as we decompose"
      • by Brigadier (12956)


        wow, thats about as creepy as it gets. Plants that poison human beings then plant themselves inside you so they can feast on your decomposing flesh.

        Are you somehow related to or live next to Steven King. You may have something here.
      • by berashith (222128)
        good point, thank you. I will sleep much better tonight.
  • by zenaida_valdez (599247) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:30PM (#23107566)
    It'll grow anywhere. It don't need no stinkin' air. The Moon will be completely covered in 3 to 5 years.
  • by LionKimbro (200000) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:37PM (#23107674) Homepage
    I always like to point to this article: Terraforming: Human Destiny or Hubris [space.com]

    It argues Konstantin Tsiolkovsky [wikipedia.org]'s vision: that we should learn how to grow plants in Space first, and stay the hell away from all gravity sinks (such as moons, such as planets,) for a very long time.

    That said, if we can grow plants on the moon, that's great!

    (older article) [physorg.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dasher42 (514179)
      I really liked how Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan closed out their book Comet: they imagined comets, with their water and mineral reserves, being seeded with highly engineered trees whose branches would extend far into the surrounding space, gathering the light to maintain themselves. The base could then be engineered into a human colony.

      The best way to make it in space would be to engineer life that can sustain an ecology there, if you ask me. I think that was visionary.
  • by the_kanzure (1100087) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:39PM (#23107696) Homepage
    I drew up some plans to make what I call a "moontank" [heybryan.org]. At the moment, the design is for cyanobacteria, however adding plants would be an interesting modification. The idea is to use a vacuum chamber here on earth and to make up something that looks like the same environment as found on the moon. Sprinkle in some bacteria, do some directed selection experiments, and see what we can get out of it.
  • He he ... (Score:5, Funny)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday April 17, 2008 @01:44PM (#23107782) Homepage

    Scientists in the Netherlands, believe growing plants on our sister satellite would be useful as a tool to learn how life adapts to lunar conditions.

    *laugh* Oh, those wacky Dutch. Trying to start a grow-op on the moon.

    I for one welcome our new lunar based, wooden shod, pot growing overlords, and anticipate the weed that is truly out of this world.

    I think that's a good sign for lunar exploration -- brothels and legalized drugs will make space attractive for much more of the population. :-P

    Cheers
  • First they make Moon Pies...now agriculture jobs are going there too.
  • So after reading the article like a good slashdotter, I got to thinking. This is all possible of course. Some people say soil could be too acidic... Ever grow a pine tree? Growing up we planted a bunch around the house... they required acid to be put into the soil all the time. Anyway I digress. I am wondering... For the Moon/Mars/Upstate NY, What kinds of plants are the best at surviving almost ANYTHING? Well, marigolds, all the types of grass, etc. Why not remotely set up a dome say.... 100 mete
    • by querist (97166)
      "So after reading the article like a good slashdotter,..."

      You must be new here. :-)

      (I've wanted a good reason to use that line. Thanks!)
      • by Kranfer (620510)
        Nah been around for a long time. I like to TRY to start discussion. However, I do not know if I have succeeded at my mission. What kind of plan would you have to putting plants on the moon or mars? Upstate NY is helpless unfortunately :(
  • What about just harvesting the cheese?
  • Who is going to design and make all those little teeny space suits?
  • Well, unless someone can build a simple habitat to keep an atmosphere, this will remain a moonage daydream oh yeah...
  • Growing plants on the Moon could also be a fairly simple and reliable way to use solar energy to power equipment up there. Plants capture and store solar energy at up to 12% (theoretical maximum photosynthetic) efficiency, and up to 8% is some land plants (and over that in some aquatic plants). The infrastructure for maintaining it, once atmosphere and water are maintained in balance, is pretty simple and reliable. And all of that is compatible with human life, since we can eat the plants (and their product

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