NASA Plans A Moon Garden

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The space agency revealed plans this week to grown basil, turnips and a small flowering plant called arabidopsis on the moon. Host Rachel Martin talks with Robert Bowman, a senior scientist with Lockheed Martin who is working with the NASA Ames Research Center, about plans to germinate plants on the moon.


Gardens on the moon. It sounds like a particularly whimsical children's book. But if NASA has its way, it might become more than a fantasy story. The space agency revealed plans this past week to grow a series of plants on the moon: basil, turnips and a little white flowered planet called Arabidopsis. Joining us now to tell us more about the little kitchen garden that's hopefully headed toward a lunar landing is Robert Bowman. He's a senior scientist with Lockheed Martin working with the NASA Ames Research Center. He's on the line from Gilroy, California. Welcome to the show.

ROBERT BOWMAN: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: So, can you describe this project? Are you essentially taking up a little greenhouse?

BOWMAN: What we're trying to do is to build a tiny little plant habitat. It's about the size of, say, a coffee can. Once we get to the moon then we're going to actually grow a whole series of different kinds of plants. Our goal is to show that in a short amount of time, and something in the order of, say, 14 earth days of continuous sunlight on the moon, we'll be able to show that earthly life, as exemplified by a plant, can thrive on the moon.

MARTIN: How did you go about selecting which plants would make it to the moon?

BOWMAN: We have actually several goals, and one of them is hard science. But we also want to enable human exploration. So, we want to show that crop plants that ultimately will feed astronauts and moon colonists and all, are also able to grow on the moon. So, we've chosen a spectrum of species that are important crop plants - turnips and basil. We've also grown basil many times on the space station as a learning tool to help students understand plant science. So, these are the reasons these other species are included.

MARTIN: How does this little garden get up there and when?

BOWMAN: It's going to fly on a Google X Prize Competitor, and the deadline for the launch is the end of 2015. So, we have close to two years to get everything together and take off and go to the moon.

MARTIN: Do you anticipate that the taste of basil might change on the moon?

BOWMAN: It might. These are the kinds of questions that really nobody knows anything about. What we're trying to do is to show that plants can grow normally on the moon, just as they do here on Earth.

MARTIN: With the express goal of getting one step closer to proving that humans can spend some significant amount of time on the moon.

BOWMAN: Exactly. This is the first time that really we've exported earthly life to another planet. You might say, well, you know, the astronauts walked on the moon. That's true, but they walked on the moon, they turned around and came home. We're going to go to the moon and we're going to grow and germinate and thrive there. And ultimately, it's going to take this kind of thing to happen in order for people to becoming colonizers and go to the moon, go to Mars, go to other places in deep space.

MARTIN: Robert Bowman. He is a senior scientist with Lockheed Martin working with NASA on the Garden Project. Mr. Bowman, thanks so much for talking with us.

BOWMAN: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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