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moon's surface, prototype of lunar greenhouse Image composite. Prototype of minature greenhouse "Lunar Oasis" courtesy Paragon Space Development Corporation. Background image: photo taken from surface of the moon.

Moon Gardeners

Scientists make plans to put miniature greenhouses on the lunar surface

By Laura Leigh Davidson | April 15 , 2009

Is it possible for plants to grow on the moon? No astronaut or unstaffed explorer has ever found evidence of life on the moon.

With its extreme temperatures, the moon's environment is very hostile to plant or animal life as we know it. But a company called Paragon Space Development Corporation announced recently that it might have found a way to grow plants on the moon.

Paragon scientists have created a small lunar greenhouse they hope will be able to protect plants from the harsh conditions on the moon. The structure, called "Lunar Oasis," is designed to allow a plant to land safely on the moon's surface.

Potted seeds will be placed into Lunar Oasis, a jarlike structure with an aluminum frame. The one-and-a-half foot tall miniature greenhouse will then be sealed to protect the plant so that it can grow with the limited light, lack of water, and temperature changes on the moon.

The moon gardeners have picked a hearty plant called Brassica to (hopefully) grow in Lunar Oasis. Brassica is related to Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Brassica is used to produce cooking oil and livestock feed.

Brassica is also a quick-growing plant. Its life cycle, the process of growing from seed to flowering, takes just 14 days. So once Lunar Oasis makes it to the moon, scientists will hopefully see quick results.

Scientists haven't yet revealed all of the details of their lunar greenhouse experiment. But if they are successful, the experiment could be an important step in finding out what it will take for people to live on the moon.

National Air and Space Administration (NASA) planetary scientist Dr. Christopher McKay will be advising the Lunar Oasis science team.

"The first plant to grow from a seed and complete its life cycle on another world will be a significant step in the expansion of life beyond the Earth," McKay said. "The sooner we do it, the better."

How Will the Greenhouse Get to the Moon?

Paragon is teaming up with Odyssey Moon Ltd, a participant in the Google Lunar X Prize, to get Lunar Oasis to the moon's surface.

The Google Lunar X Prize is a contest that began in 2007. It's a race to see which private team will be the first to successfully launch and land a robotic rover on the moon.

The winners will claim a hefty prize of $20 million. But Paragon president and founder Jane Poynter seems to be more excited about the wonder and possibilities of this kind of space exploration than the prize money.

"People of all ages will get excited about the idea of growing a plant on the moon," Poynter said. "Imagine a bright flower on a plant in a crystal clear growth chamber on the surface of the moon, with the full Earth rising above the moonscape behind it; these are the ideas that got me interested in space."

It will be a few years before the Lunar Oasis gets to its new home. Odyssey Moon estimates it won't be able to launch its space rover until 2012, at the earliest.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK

Read today’s story and answer the following question.

blog it If you had basic necessities like air, water, and food, would you want to live on the moon? Why or why not? What flowers and foods would you choose to grow in your moon garden?

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