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Researchers Grew Tiny Plants in Moon Dirt Collected Decades Ago

Communications Biology
the University of Florida
Johnson Space Center
Paul and Ferl
Paul and Ferl’s
the Colorado School of Mines

Condé Nast
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Ramin SkibbaTo revist
Anna-Lisa Paul
Robert Ferl
Sharmila Bhattacharya
Kevin Cannon
Mark Watney-


the moon
the Sea of Tranquility—
’70s moon landing
the moon in a few years
the Red Planet

Apollo 12
Apollo 17
the International Space Station
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The New York Times
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“We were watching the very first seeds ever in the history of humanity—in the history of the solar system—growing in lunar material.” (The researchers aren’t affiliated with NASA, but the agency helped fund their work.)The lunar soil, called regolith, that astronauts scooped up in the 1960s and ’70s is extremely challenging to work with. I have no doubt that we’ll learn how to grow plants in lunar soil,” says Robert Ferl, Paul’s colleague and a study coauthor.NASA performed a few experiments following the 1960s and ’70s moon landing missions that brought back lunar material, but those were nothing like what Paul and Ferl attempted. “Having the touch and feel of plants can have psychological benefits,” Bhattacharya says.For these reasons, astronauts and researchers have already begun testing different ways to grow food on the International Space Station. Researchers have already started growing plants, including thale cress, in simulated Martian soil, and they could get a shot at experimenting with the real thing when NASA returns samples from the Perseverance Mars rover mission. If it works, a Mark Watney-like botanist-astronaut could one day grow potatoes on the Red Planet—but not until someone works out ways to help Earth plants thrive, instead of just survive, in space regolith.Still, for Paul and her colleagues, space agriculture, or at least space gardening, will be in our future.

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