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The Moon

Moon turnips? NASA takes gardening to new heights

NASA has announced that it plans a complex experiment to grow cress, turnips and basil on the moon – inside a seriously high-tech terrarium.

This could be good news for future space explorers: NASA’s has already proved that people can only deal with so much freeze-dried food. But while astronauts will probably appreciate the fresh veg, NASA says the real goal of this experiment is to see if humans could one day live — and farm — on the moon.

“This will be the very first life science experiment performed in deep space,” says plant scientist Bob Bowman, one of the researchers behind the project. “Our goal is to show that the living organism can thrive in what really is a hostile environment,” he told The Salt blog on www.npr.org.

But growing plants on the moon won’t be easy. The moon has one-sixth the gravity of Earth — and the plants that NASA sends up there will have to deal with that, as well as facing extreme temperatures and harsh radiation.

“The moon’s a weird place,” Bowman says. “On the side that’s facing the sun, the surface temperature is about 65 degrees Celcius. On the other side, it’s negative 65 degrees.”

The plant habitat that Bowman and his colleagues have designed contains seeds, as well as a nutrient-rich paper and enough air and water for the seeds to germinate and grow. The canister also has features that regulate light and temperature, and cameras that the researchers will use to track the plants’ progress over five to 10 days.

The entire thing is about the size of a coffee canister, and it weights only one kilogram. It’ll be hitching a ride on the lander, a commercial spacecraft enrolled in the Google Lunar X Prize that’s set to launch sometime in 2015.

Till then, the researchers will be putting the canister through rigorous testing. They also hope to get school kids across America , by encouraging them to build their own canisters.

Bowman says this is just the first step. “Someday,” he says, “what we learn from this and the follow-up experiments will enable us to live in deep space.”

Source: The Salt blog on www.npr.org

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