NASA plans to grow turnips and basil on the Moon

Illustration for article titled NASA plans to grow turnips and basil on the Moon

Will remembering to water the plants be just as difficult in space as it is on earth? We're about to find out. NASA has announced plans to plant the first garden on the moon in 2015 — and it might mean we're one small step closer to space-colonization.


Besides turnips and basil, the garden will also include Arabidopsis (a type of flowering cress, favored by research scientists). The seeds would initially be kept in a sealed growth chamber, with about a week's worth of air and a reservoir of water to get them started. Robert Bowman, one of the scientists working on the project, talked to NPR's Rachel Martin about the garden — and just what it could mean for space-colonization:

We want to show that crop plants that ultimately will feed astronauts and moon colonists and all, are also able to grow on the moon. So, we've chosen a spectrum of species that are important crop plants - turnips and basil . . . This is the first time that really we've exported earthly life to another planet. You might say, well, you know, the astronauts walked on the moon. That's true, but they walked on the moon, they turned around and came home. We're going to go to the moon and we're going to grow and germinate and thrive there. And ultimately, it's going to take this kind of thing to happen in order for people to becoming colonizers and go to the moon, go to Mars, go to other places in deep space.

The impact of the moon garden on space colonies is probably pretty far off into the future. But, there's also plenty of questions it can get started on answering right now, like what lunar gravity and radiation might do to plant germination and growth, whether there would be any effect on taste (uncertain, according to Bowman), and just what exactly might one make with turnips and basil?

Image: 1986 artist's conception of what a colony on the moon would look like, from NASA/Dennis M Davidson



That's an ambitious project to complete in little more than a year. A day on the Moon is 27.3 days long. How do they plan to regulate light? How do they plan on landing the growth chamber safely? While I think it's a cool idea/project, maybe it would be easier to do on the ISS first. All of the plant growth experiments in space thus far have been done with artificial light. Mounting an experiment module outside the ISS would be easier than landing something on the Moon.