NASA is planning to study how plants grow in space, with a moon garden that will include turnips, basil and cress.
NASA wants to grow plants in space. More specifically, it's planning to plant a vegetable garden on the moon to demonstrate that a moon garden is a feasible way of supplementing astronauts' meals. The space agency has announced that, by 2015, it will be sending up various plants — including turnips, Arabidopsis (a type of cress) and basil — in what it is calling "the first life sciences experiment on another world".
They're not just planning to dig some holes, bury the seeds and hope for the best, though. The plants will be grown in a special lunar module, designed to promote plant growth specifically in an off-world environment. This habitat will weigh about 1 kilogram and will get to the moon by hitch-hiking a ride on the Moon Express Lander, which is participating in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition.
Inside the sealed growth chamber, the plants will be protected from the higher solar radiation, and a special reservoir will keep the plants watered. Air will be sealed inside, sufficient for more than five days of growth. For five to 10 days, NASA will monitor the plants' germination (the focus of the experiment), growth, compared to a control group on earth, measuring growth rate and expressed leaf area over time, based on photos taken from inside the module.
Scientists will also measure how the plants move in response to the movement of the light source and circumnutation.
"Survival to 14 days demonstrates plants can sprout in the Moon's radiation environment at 1/6 g," NASA said. "Survival to 60 days demonstrates that sexual reproduction (meiosis) can occur in a lunar environment. Survival to 180 days shows effects of radiation on dominant and recessive genetic traits. Afterwards, the experiment may run for months through multiple generations, increasing science return."
After the experiment is concluded, NASA will then go on to launch longer-term experiments over multiple plant generations with a wider range of plants.
You can read more about the Lunar Plant Growth Chamber on the NASA website.