Chickpeas Grown in Lunar Regolith Are Stressed but Reach Maturity

Image of the chickpea plants after five weeks displaying a diversity of chlorophyll. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Jessica Atkins)

A recent preprint investigates how chickpeas have been successfully grown in lunar regolith simulants (LRS), marking the first time such a guideline has been established not only for chickpeas, but also for growing food for long-term human space missions. This study was conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University and Brown University and holds the potential to develop more efficient methods in growing foods using extraterrestrial resources, specifically with NASA’s Artemis program slated to return humans to the lunar surface in the next few years.

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Plants Could Grow in Lunar Regolith Using Bacteria

Plants grown in a volcanic ash lunar simulant (left) compared with those grown in the lunar soil (right) Credit: UF/IFAS/Tyler Jones

In the next decade, NASA, China, and their international and commercial partners plan to establish habitats on the Moon. Through the Artemis Program, NASA will deploy the orbiting Lunar Gateway and the Artemis Base Camp on the lunar surface. Meanwhile, China (and its partner Roscosmos) will deploy the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), consisting of an orbital and surface element. The creation of this infrastructure will enable a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development” that could lead to a permanent human presence there.

To ensure that humans can work and live sustainably beyond Earth, astronauts and crews will need to be able to harvest local resources to see to their needs – in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). This includes using lunar water ice and regolith to grow plants, providing astronauts with food and an additional source of oxygen and biomass. To test the potential for growing plants on the Moon, a Chinese research team conducted a series of experiments where they grew tobacco plants in simulated lunar soil with the help of bacteria.

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Can Plants be Adapted to Thrive in Space?

plants in space
A view into NASA's Kennedy Space Center’s Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) during experiment verification testing for the Plant Habitat-03 investigation. The image shows the Arabidopsis plants growing in the APH just before the four seed bags are installed. The plants are just beginning to develop flower stalks. Image courtesy of Dr. Anna-Lisa Paul.

Humans in space have to eat. In the early days of space exploration, they got to eat paste and drink Tang (or so the legends tell us). That’s hardly a great long-term diet. Plants should be in there, too. And, astronauts aboard the ISS have been growing gardens in space for years.

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