Lunar farming: Artemis III astronauts will cultivate plants on the Moon’s surface for the very first time!

Advertisement
Lunar farming: Artemis III astronauts will cultivate plants on the Moon’s surface for the very first time!
A NASA artist’s illustration of Artemis astronauts working on the Moon. (Credits: NASA)
Embarking on a celestial gardening expedition of sorts, NASA has set its sights on an ambitious project: growing plants on the Moon for the very first time! This initiative will be a part of the 2026 Artemis III mission, which will see the US space agency send humans back to the lunar surface.
Advertisement

As part of this groundbreaking venture, astronauts will set up growth chambers housing various plant species, including duckweed and thale cress, on the Moon. These plants are carefully selected for their adaptability to the lunar environment and their potential as sustainable food sources, The Telegraph reports.

“Plant growth and development data, along with environmental parameters measured by LEAF, will help scientists understand the use of plants grown on the Moon for both human nutrition and life support on the Moon and beyond,” said NASA in a statement.

The plant candidates


Duckweed, renowned as the smallest flowering plant on Earth, exhibits remarkable resilience and rapid growth rates. Its unique spherical structure, devoid of roots, stems or leaves, makes it well-suited to withstand the challenges of space conditions. Moreover, duckweed provides large amounts of oxygen as well as protein, rendering it an ideal candidate for cultivation in extraterrestrial environments.

Thale cress, on the other hand, has already demonstrated its ability to thrive in Moon soil (regolith) collected during the Apollo missions. Despite regolith’s harshness characterised by water scarcity and nutrient deficiencies, this resilient plant species managed to adapt and flourish in it

Advertisement

Furthermore, NASA also plans to introduce red and green varieties of Brassica rapa, commonly known as Wisconsin fast plants. These relatives of cabbage and broccoli, with their remarkably swift life cycle, could offer valuable insights into plant growth and adaptation in space environments.

The selected plant specimens will be housed within specially designed growth chambers, shielding them from harmful radiation and maintaining optimal growth conditions. These chambers will facilitate the observation and analysis of various plant processes, including photosynthesis and responses to environmental stressors.

The LEAF project


The overarching goal of this initiative, dubbed LEAF (Lunar Effects on Agricultural Flora), is to assess how plants fare under lunar conditions, including partial gravity and radiation exposure.

The LEAF project is led by Christine Escobar of Space Lab Technologies, LLC, in Boulder, Colorado. The team is also interested in examining the effects of the lunar environment on the germination process, which will be monitored by scientists on Earth through a remote camera. And following the culmination of the Artemis III mission, the plants will be carefully transported back to Earth, where they will undergo thorough molecular-level analysis.

Successful cultivation of crops on the lunar surface could significantly reduce the logistical challenges associated with long-duration space missions. Moreover, by studying plant growth and development on the Moon, scientists hope to gain invaluable insights into extraterrestrial agriculture and its potential role in sustaining human life beyond Earth.

Advertisement
In essence, the LEAF project could end up being the seed that revolutionises human space exploration, paving the way for sustainable lunar habitats and long-term space missions.
{{}}