Posted by: MadSciLabz | May 4, 2009

First Gardens on the Moon by 2012

Groundbreaking advancements in the realm of space engineering may soon see the moon sown with the first gardens to grow on the lunar surface. As part of the Google Lunar X Prize, Paragon Space Development Corporation has recently teamed with Odyssey Moon to develop a pressurized mini greenhouse to deploy on the surface of the moon, grow a plant from seed, and hopefully see it flower and seed itself. It’s a complicated endeavor, but it marks a critical stage of development for extending life beyond the confines of our planet.

In order to successfully grow a plant on the moon, Paragon has developed a very specialized greenhouse that can safely contain a plant and provide it with all elements it needs to survive. The greenhouse will need to protect the plant from the sun’s intense rays while providing it with enough water, balanced soil, and carbon dioxide while removing its waste oxygen. They are basically creating a space suit for the plant.

For this trial, Paragon has chosen a species within Brassica (the mustard family), due to their quick growth and the abundance of knowledge about the plant. A typical Brassica needs 14 days of light in order to grow, flower and then set seed. A lunar day is 14 Earth days long, so if the landing is timed perfectly, it will allow just enough time for the plant to grow to maturity and possibly re-seed. That is if everything goes as planned on the Lunar Oasis Lander, which Paragon and Odyssey Moon are developing.

Growing a plant in a controlled environment on the moon will be a groundbreaking development, because this is a crucial step to colonizing life outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Whatever you think about expanding beyond our own limits, the technology to be able to sustain life in such harsh conditions is pretty incredible – it would be amazing to see the accelerated footage of a plant growing in space.

The plant growth payload is just one aspect of the Lunar Oasis Lander being developed for the Google Lunar X Prize. The competition will award $30 million to the first private company to land a craft on the moon by 2012. As part of the requirements, the craft must safely land, send live video feed back to Earth, travel at least 500 meters across the surface, send more video and carry a payload. Paragon is specifically responsible for the plant payload as well as the lander design and thermal controls systems. Interestingly enough, the CEO of Paragon, Taber MacCallum, and his wife Jane Poytner are experts in closed biological systems – they were two of the eight people who spent two years inside of Biosphere 2 in Arizona.


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