Humans moving into space is an inevitability in my vision of the future, and some of the early steps in making it more attractive and feasible are being planned right now. Ukrainian scientists have demonstrated a method – using a hardy bacteria – that allows marigold to grow in rock very similar to the surface of the moon, meaning that it is likely possible and relatively easy to grow plants on the lunar terrain. Tulips, cabbage and arabidopsis are proposed as other plants to be tested in actual lunar conditions.
Marigolds on the moon may be beautiful, but it’s the potential this unlocks that matters. We can extrapolate from this breakthrough and imagine using the knowledge gained to create human-made ecosystems on other bodies in our solar system and beyond. It’s an enchanting thought that we may be able to instill cold rocks with the life we treasure on our own Earth.
The research was presented at the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna, by Dr Bernard Foing of ESA, director of the International Lunar Exploration Working Group, and father of the SMART-1 moon probe, who believes it is an important milestone because it does away with the need to bring bringing nutrients and soil from Earth.
He has worked with Natasha Kozyrovska and Iryna Zaetz from the Ukranian Academy of Sciences in Kiev, who planted marigolds in crushed anorthosite, a type of rock found on Earth which is very similar to lunar soil, called regolith.
They did not grow well until the team added different types of bacteria, which made them thrive; the bacteria appeared to leach elements from the rock that the plants needed, such as potassium.
Even better, bacteria are able to withstand extremely tough conditions, so would be an ideal way to fertilise lunar crops. “That is the new aspect of this work,” says Dr Foing, who presented the study at the EGU meeting, said there was no reason in principle why the same idea could not bear fruit on the Moon itself.
– “I’ll grow marigolds on the moon“
There’s a pull on my senses of wonder and responsibility in the notion that we can spread the beauty and potential of the life that has blessed Earth. If it allowed for the awesomeness of humanity and what we can become on one world, why not pollinate others? And why shouldn’t we disperse humanity’s best features along with it and allow the fullness of our great care, beauty and understanding to flourish without boundary?