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NASA's First Artemis Moon Astronauts Will Bring Small Greenhouse to Lunar Surface

Astronaut Farmers

The first astronauts to walk the surface of the Moon in almost half a century will be bringing with them a mini-greenhouse to study how crops adapt to the harsh surrounding environment.

The device, which is part of NASA's Lunar Effects on Agricultural Flora (LEAF) investigation, could become "the first experiment to observe plant photosynthesis, growth, and systemic stress responses in space-radiation and partial gravity," according to a statement by the space agency.

Of course, that's only if NASA's crewed Artemis 3 mission to the lunar surface, tentatively slated for 2026, goes according to plan.

The experiment could help shed light on how growing food in space could allow us to feed ourselves on journeys to the Moon and beyond — an integral aspect of space exploration that could soon be put to the test.

Sowing the Seeds

As Space.com points out, it technically wouldn't be the first time plants have made it to the lunar surface. In 2019, China sent cotton seeds to the far side of the Moon as part of its Chang'e 4 mission. The seeds sprouted days later, making it the first biological experiment of any kind on the surface of another world.

Apart from LEAF, NASA also selected two other science experiments destined for the surface of the Moon. The Lunar Environment Monitoring Station (LEMS) will involve placing a small autonomous seismometer suite designed to detect moonquakes.

And the Lunar Dielectric Analyzer (LDA) is designed to measure the surrounding lunar dust's ability to conduct electricity, something that's key to our search for lunar ice.

"These three scientific instruments will be our first opportunity since Apollo to leverage the unique capabilities of human explorers to conduct transformative lunar science," said deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Joel Kearns in the statement.

But before astronauts make it to the lunar surface, NASA and its commercial partners, including SpaceX, still have much work ahead of them. The mission will involve a crew of astronauts traveling to lunar orbit aboard an Orion capsule. Two of the four crew members then travel down to the lunar surface below aboard a SpaceX Starship — which, it's worth pointing out, has yet to make it to space and back in one piece.

Nonetheless, the mission could mark a historic first step in our renewed efforts to establish a permanent presence on the lunar surface — and bringing a piece of home in the form of some plants only makes sense.

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