(CNN)In a landmark first, scientists have grown plants in lunar soil using samples collected during the Apollo missions to the moon. This is the first time plants have been sprouted and grown on Earth in soil from another celestial body.
Plants have been grown in lunar soil for the 1st time ever
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The study could lay the foundation for growing plants that supply oxygen and food on the moon, a timely consideration as NASA's Artemis program looks to land the first woman and the first person of color at the lunar south pole later this decade.
But the experiments also reveal just how stressful it is for plants to grow in lunar regolith, or soil, which is wildly different from natural habitats on Earth.
A study detailing the plant experiment published Thursday in the journal Communications Biology.
Different types of plants, including food crops, have flown on the space shuttle and the International Space Station. Plant samples have even been used to prove that lunar samples aren't harmful to life on Earth.
"Plants helped establish that the soil samples brought back from the moon did not harbor pathogens or other unknown components that would harm terrestrial life, but those plants were only dusted with the lunar regolith and were never actually grown in it," said study coauthor Anna-Lisa Paul, research professor of horticultural sciences at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Paul and study coauthor Rob Ferl, distinguished professor of horticultural sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, wanted to take things a step further and see if seeds would grow in lunar soil.
"For future, longer space missions, we may use the Moon as a hub or launching pad," Ferl said in a statement. "So, what happens when you grow plants in lunar soil, something that is totally outside of a plant's evolutionary experience? What would plants do in a lunar greenhouse? Could we have lunar farmers?"
It's an experiment that has been long in the making -- 15 years have passed since the researchers made their first proposal and request for lunar samples. The request was granted 18 months ago.
The research team requested 4 grams of lunar material collected during the Apollo 17 mission from NASA. Ryan Zeigler, NASA's Apollo sample curator, saw the scientific value in providing more from different Apollo missions. He sent them a total of 12 grams (2.7 teaspoons) from lunar samples collected from the Apollo 11, 12 and 17 missions.
"That made a big difference in enabling us to take a deeper look into the science and the effects of lunar regolith on plants than we would have otherwise been able to do," Paul said.
The researchers used wells the size of thimbles as pots. Typically, these plastic trays are used to culture cells.