Researchers are demonstrating that plants from Earth could be grown without soil on the moon or Mars, setting the table for astronauts who would find potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables awaiting their arrival.
The first extraterrestrials to inhabit the moon probably won’t be little green men, but they could be little green plants.
Researchers at the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, known as CEAC, are demonstrating that plants from Earth could be grown hydroponically (without soil) on the moon or Mars, setting the table for astronauts who would find potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables awaiting their arrival.
The research team has built a prototype lunar greenhouse in the CEAC Extreme Climate Lab at UA’s Campus Agricultural Center. It represents the last 18 feet of one of several tubular structures that would be part of a proposed lunar base. The tubes would be buried beneath the moon’s surface to protect the plants and astronauts from deadly solar flares, micrometeorites and cosmic rays.
The membrane-covered module can be collapsed to a 4-foot-wide disk for interplanetary travel. It contains water-cooled sodium vapor lamps and long envelopes that would be loaded with seeds, ready to sprout hydroponically.
NASA is funding this research under a $70,000 Ralph Steckler Space Grant Colonization Research and Technology Development Opportunity, which CEAC obtained with help from UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The Steckler grants are designed to support research that could lead to space colonization, a better understanding of the lunar environment and creation of technologies that will support space colonies.
CEAC now is applying for Phase II of this grant, which would provide an additional $225,000 for two years.
Although NASA funds the test run, “everything you see in this room – the greenhouse module, lights, water system – came out of Phil Sadler’s pocket,” Giacomelli said. “I paid for the student help and pay the bills for the research space. Obviously, we think this is important work.”
Filed Under: Animal & Plant Life