If all goes as planned, NASA may land its first experimental garden on the moon in late 2015.
Scientists at the Ames Research Center in California are putting together the “Lunar Plant Growth Habitat” project with the hopes of sending an automated small greenhouse (complete with turnips, basil and flower seeds) to the moon in an attempt to see if plants will germinate there.
NASA is looking at possible private rides to the moon—commercial spacecraft companies are competing to collect the Google Lunar X-Prize—but no decision has been made yet.
Soon after touching down on the dusty lunar surface, the self-contained habitat would release a spray of water from a reservoir and automatically douse a nutrient-soaked piece of paper. The paper will then drip onto the seeds below—hopefully spurring them to grow.
The entire 2.2 pound (1 kilogram) experiment should last only 5 to 10 days, with its progress captured through images beamed back to Earth.
NASA also hopes that this lunar greenhouse experiment will offer a unique outreach opportunity for school kids, and so it plans to equip classrooms with replica gardens.
The first life sciences experiment on another world will help pave the way for permanent lunar bases, says NASA.
Researchers hope to understand better what effects the extreme lunar environment—like radiation and lower gravity—may have on plant growth.
“If we send plants and they thrive, then we probably can. Thriving plants are needed for life support (food, air, water) for colonists.” said NASA in a statement on the project’s website.