During the coronavirus restrictions, NASA scientist Max Coleman toiled in his kitchen on containers of radishes – all in the name of science. He wants to help astronauts grow their own food on the lunar surface. The study is reported by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is engaged in the creation and maintenance of robotic spacecraft for the agency.

Why exactly a radish? The scientist easily explains his choice: this species has been used in space before, and the seeds germinate very quickly.

Previously, other researchers sent radishes to the International Space Station, and now Coleman and his colleagues hope to help astronauts who will eventually grow their own food on the lunar surface.

A team of 13 people is trying to simulate – physically and chemically – the lunar surface soil, or regolith, here on Earth. All the details are taken into account: how quickly water is absorbed between the grains of the lunar soil, how large the particles are, and what the proportions of minerals are.

Coleman and his team spent over a year doing research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and were set to begin practical testing of sensors that could eventually be used on the moon. Coronavirus restrictions interrupted these plans.

In April, during an online meeting, Coleman came up with the idea to set up a home-made radish laboratory. A team of scientists discussed how to hypothetically try to grow radishes without nutrients and also with few nutrients.

Coleman suggested not building theories but moving on to practice. And before the virtual meeting was over, he bought a batch of radish seeds online to deliver home. Later, the scientist acquired sand to simulate the desert, which is often sold as a top coat to decorate indoor plants in pots.

Nasa plants

Armed with radish seeds and sand, Coleman was ready for serious business.

We’re trying to show that astronauts can use gardening to grow their own food on the moon. We want to take one tiny step in this direction to show that lunar soil contains substances that can be extracted from it as plant nutrients. This includes getting the right chemicals to enable plants to produce chlorophyll and grow cell walls.

Max Coleman, NASA scientist, experiment author

Since the Moon is always facing the Earth, when it rotates around our planet every month, it rotates on its axis once. The lunar timeline (one lunar day equals 28 Earth days, 14 days of daylight) makes fast-growing radishes a good choice for relatively quick experimental results. It will be possible to complete the experiment on one lunar day, starting immediately after dawn.

Coleman began his first radish experiment by cutting paper towels into small squares, adding water, and placing them in a container. Then he buried three radish seeds at a depth of half an inch. Only one sprout emerged – presumably the one that somehow got enough oxygen to germinate. Once the sand arrived, Coleman dropped the paper towels and started using it.

He put varying amounts of water into four sections of the container. Result: Radishes germinated first and best in the section with the least amount of water. This immediately influenced how scientists would experiment with water and lunar soil if they got it.

At one point, he added kitchen meter “electrodes” to measure moisture levels and track evaporation in the sand: he folded aluminum foil four or five times to make a strip, and then using his battery tester, he measured the electrical resistance from the water.

The group’s research focuses on using local biological resources to address issues such as “where to get food” rather than “how to get water and oxygen.” Coleman explains that it is important for future astronauts to use what is, and not “take as much as possible with you.”

If the experiment goes to the moon, it will complement the plant precursors tested in microgravity on the space station. Also, the development will help astronauts on missions to the moon.

We cannot properly test here on Earth with perfect lunar soil, but we are doing as much here as we can. Then we want to show that this will actually work on the moon as well.

Max Coleman, NASA scientist, experiment author