46 thoughts on “Plants Grown In Lunar Regolith”

  1. Maybe we need to ship some Brawndo to the moon?

    Seriously, what is missing from the lunar regolith that plants need? Nitrogen? Potassium? Phosphorus?

    We’ve had this growing plants thing kind of figured out for a couple of hundred years now….what is it going to take?

    1. Ask Michael “you dig a hole, you drop in a seed and then cover it up” Bloomberg?

  2. About 15 years ago I made some Mars soil simulant out of red Georgia sand and various salts like Magnesium Sulfate and Calcium Chloride, matching the proportions measured by Spirit and Opportunity. I put that through several cycles of baking and microwaving to remove moisture and kill any tagalong bacteria. Some of that simulant was given to a high school student for a science fair project.

    She grew peas in it. The plants grew even though the soil was much saltier than you’d normally garden with.

  3. Yes, I’m not too sure about this headline. The article states that “the plants showed signs of stress”, and yet had 100% germination, looked great, and grew just fine. You could certainly eat them.

    I guess I just can’t get too worked up about stressed-out plants.

  4. Earth dirt has been exposed to weathering, especially oxygen for a long time. To the point that the predominant constituents are fully oxidized. Water tends to transport soluble salts from the surface to lower in the soil profile most of the time. I would expect that regolith would have a lot more very reactive elements, especially metals. It’s also notoriously jagged and abrasive that might interfere with the development of roots. Looking up Arabidopsis thaliana, I find it’s generally considered a weed with connotations of extreme hardiness. I wonder why they didn’t try with something that would be more useful.

  5. “Fe-oxide deposits resulting from the exposure of nanophase iron to atmospheric oxygen could inhibit mineral utilization in the context of regolith.”

    Why would you not magnetically separate out the iron prior to exposing it to an atmosphere containing oxygen?

  6. Seriously, just do what humans have done for thousands of years: selective breeding. Duh.

    1. Canvass the extremophiles and see if one of them likes regolith enough to do some “pre-processing” — like a compost pile. For starters stop deorbiting organic waste and save it for future use.

  7. The Space Development Network’s Agriculture Working Group (AgWG) looked at many options for an initial lunar GreenHab. We settled on a hybrid approach of crushing rock to a specific granularity but also having nutrient solution pass through the granular matrix beneficiating over time with organic waste. This would help the microbiological community at the plant’s roots while avoiding the deleterious effects of lunar regolith.

  8. You could just use a vacuum chamber (which are relatively inexpensive to make on the moon) to coat the particles with just about anything you want, such as SiO2, just like coating telescope mirrors. That should chemically turn the surface of the particles into the equivalent of sand.

    1. The link spoke of adding things to the regolith but really, we need to build soil and that takes time. It is more than just adding some ferts.

  9. Why bother? Hydroponics in an enclosed atmosphere and controlled light sources & temperature. People will need these things anyway. Farmers have been growing out-of-season vegetables for restaurants now for decades this way. All it takes is energy. Solve getting the energy issue on the moon and the rest follows. Yes you may have to transport water up to moon until you can transport it from the poles or establish your base near the poles for lunar water. I don’t see the need for regolith outside of cheap construction material.

      1. Catfish on the Moon, pigs on Mars… and what do we eat on Venus…? In one of my stories, the capital of Venus is named Venusberg, and there’s a river named Sinus Mulierum. Near as I can tell, no one noticed. It was in Asimov’s, so I assume a few people read it…

    1. Start with hydroponics. Compost the waste materials. Mix with regolith. Soon you are gardening in lunar soil.

        1. In what I’ve seen; The hydroponic methods used to grow out of season vegetables using a small amount of soil in a tray suspended over and in contact with. a continuously circulated solution of nutrients and water. A PVC tube machined into the form of a spiral with varying pitch is used to move the trays from one end of the length to the other something along the lines of 60 to 80 feet. The spiral rotates once every 24 hours. Seedlings go into one end and finished plants out the other. All under grow lights that cycle 16/8 hrs. on/off to give the plants optimal grow conditions. This process was used for leafy vegetables as opposed to tubers. The soil and trays are recycled at the end of the process.

          I guess this is not pure hydroponics. More of a hybrid system. The point is that it works here on Earth, uses little precious soil but does need water and a considerable amount of electricity. I read about this process about 30 years ago. On Earth it used a lot of electricity and LP Gas. But super fresh table lettuce to Chicago restaurants in February and willing to pay premium over shipping made it profitable.

          1. At the Edmonton International Airport there are two factories, each over a million square feet, that are growing marijuana that way. Wow, have times changed.

        2. Wouldn’t it be crazy if one day there was a market for importing soil to Earth?
          Or importing soil to the Moon. Sounds like a cool SF plot. All you need is a working title. Hmmm. How ‘bout “The Man Who Sold The Earth”? Oh, wait….

    2. “Yes you may have to transport water up to moon until you can transport it from the poles or establish your base near the poles for lunar water.”

      Yes, proximity to the water in permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles (especially the south) would be one reason. Another is that some of the mountainous regions near said craters are in almost perpetual sunshine. The two week long extremes of heat and cold endemic to most of the moon are muted in those areas.

      “Conversely, a few mountain peaks receive nearly constant illumination resulting in only very small temperature variations. One such peak is on the northern rim of Peary crater, close to the pole.”


      I believe the temperatures in these limited areas averages close to the freezing point of water with little variation; good spot for harvesting solar energy as well.

      1. I was thinking more in terms of growing in ET regolith than “which planet.”

        There’s a lot of this in old SF. Heinlein himself went from the somewhat ridiculous “Farmer in the Sky (terraforming a “valley” on Ganymede) to the somewhat realistic tunnel-warren farms in “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.” People make the excuse that no one knew what the moons of the outer solart system were like back then, but it’s not true. (See “The Secret of the Ninth Planet” by Donald Wollheim, which featured oceanic ice moons in 1959.)

        The Moon is close enough, you could ship up terrestrial soil, worms and all. Starship changes everything. Starship Mk. 2 will change everything more.

    1. Between the author and Mars they both did their best to try kill off Matt Damon…

      1. Well cast in The Last Duel. A more annoying person could not be found to play such an annoying character.

  10. Try this. Mix 4 lbs. of Lunar dirt, with 1 lb. of compost. Remove aluminum, and any other metals that are not needed.

    Get the water from lava tubes. We should find the mother load of water there. Lava tubes are also good places to build settlements. They offer a good heat sink, and provide protect from cosmic, and solar radiation.

    1. “Get the water from lava tubes. We should find the mother load of water there.” Perhaps. But how do we know there is any water in Lunar lava tubes let alone the “mother load”? After all we can detect the signs of the water in the permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles, who knows what is in a hidden lava tube?

  11. Some of those lava tubes are real big. There is a collapsed one, that is 1 mile wide, and 70 miles long. And I do think there is ice there. Lots of ice. Need to send a robot to the entrance of a few lava tubes, and check them out.

    And settlements do need a heat sink. Just building a dome on the Lunar surface isn’t going to work. That settlement will over heat. Then you also need to burry it in several feet of dirt.

    Lava tubes don’t need shielding. Just don’t build close to the entrance.

    1. Some of the the mountainous regions near the poles have the added advantage of being in almost perpetual lunar sunshine; constant temperatures approx. around the freezing point of water. Much easier to deal with than the wild temperature swings of the rest of the moon to say nothing of no sunlight for solar energy for two weeks at a stretch. I know any lunar base/colony would likely use nuclear power as well as a matter of course but still. So that and (relatively) close proximity to the ice containing craters near such poles; but who knows, maybe there are also ice (and other useful volatiles) containing lava tubes near said polar craters as well.

    2. Of course…if they discovered a large network of deeply buried solar/ cosmic radiation shielded lave tubes with lots of ice/volatiles & miles of enclosed space, ripe for pressurization all bets would be off. No matter where on the moon it was.

    3. “Need to send a robot to the entrance of a few lava tubes, and check them out.”

      How crazy is it that we have been slacking off so much as a society that it is likely that humans will be doing this instead of robots?

      I am in favor of robust prospecting but it looks like high school kids will be doing filed trips on the Moon before that happens.

  12. I am in favor of robust prospecting but it looks like high school kids will be doing filed trips on the Moon before that happens.
    As opposed to high school kids tele-operating lunar robots from here on Earth to do the prospecting. We can’t do that cause we spent all the money building a monster rocket that can’t put payload on the moon without assistance. Truly bizzaro world.

  13. Heating Lunar regolith gives off steam along with the other elements. Water is available on the entire moon. And the voyager spacecraft, launched in the 1970s, were still producing electricity not that long ago. So, that gives you water, power, and heat anywhere on the moon.

    1. The Radioisotope Thermoelectric generators used on those spacecraft would not scale up to something a base could use. It would have to be a different design.

  14. I’m glad Anna-Lisa and the crew were able to advance this research. I remember sitting in on a session at a LEAG conference down in Houston some 10+ years ago and we were each individually quizzing the Curator about doing plant-growth studies in real regolith. They stated at the time that they would be happy to release regolith for plant growth studies, provided the science was good and what they were looking for (things like gene expression), not just a science fair type project (oh hey! It worked!)

    My suggestion has long been to mix humus into the regolith to get things started. While the regolith has lots of yummy trace elements from aeons of impacts that plants love (q.v. Dr. Walkinshaw’s work back in the 1970s), it is sterile and thoroughly so. Never been a fan of hydroponics, as I find the product to generally be adequate but tasteless.

    I’m pretty sure I suggested in my Cislunar Econosphere article way back when that raw regolith be bagged up and shipped back to Earth on deadhead runs back to LEO to be sold as a soil additive. It’s got the goodies that have been industrially farmed out of our croplands here on Earth by centuries if not millennia of cultivation.

    Me? I want to grow cannabis on the Moon. I’m convinced that those trace elements in the regolith, amongst other things, will offer a unique terroir for plants grown there, which will command a premium as a result of their extraterrestrial origin. I intend to market it as “Lunajuana”. Depending on how things go, there might be expansion potential into “Moonshrooms”.

    This research is long overdue. Hopefully we’ll see much more in the not too distant future.

    1. Might have to have a bunch of chickens up there as well, just to provide something for the Moonshrooms to grow in.

  15. There’s a homesteading concept called “The Five-Acre Homestead” you could replicate on the Moon, similar to my Mars Homestead idea. On the Moon, you could build the Atlas Bombshelter habitat in the sealed bottom of a 5-ac. crater, bulldoze in crushed regolith, dome it over, add atmosphere, fill in with clay fines and topsoil (worms and all) from Earth, and Heinlein’s yer uncle! The Earth version had chickens, pigs, and a carp/koi pond, and will support a family of 6 or so. I’ve got the acreage, but didn’t get to it before I got too old.

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