Updated May 15th, 2022 at 22:50 IST

From lunar soil plants to artificial bone; check list of developments before moon landing

NASA is planning to send humans back to the Moon under the Artemis program later this decade. Check out some of the major scientific developments.

Reported by: Harsh Vardhan
Image: NASA/ESA | Image:self

The day when astronauts will step on the Moon again is nearing, therefore, scientists are ramping up preparations that would help humans establish a long-term presence on the lunar surface. As part of their preparations, scientists from different space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), in collaboration with space agencies from Canada and Japan are conducting some game-changing experiments. Let us take a look at some of the major developments that would support astronauts on the Moon in the Artemis era and eventually on Mars. 

Growing plants in lunar soil

(Image: NASA)

A ground-breaking development, this is the latest achievement by scientists who intend to make farming on the Moon a common practice. Scientists at the University of Florida have used the soil brought from the Moon during Apollo 11, 12, and 17 missions to grow Arabidopsis thaliana in the nutrient-poor lunar soil. The Arabidopsis is native to Eurasia and Africa and is a relative of mustard greens and other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.

Notably, the researchers found that after six days, the cultivated plants were not as robust as those grown in Earth's soil and volcanic ash. Besides, these plants also grew differently depending on which type of sample they were in. Although the plants produced were stunted, scientists are optimistic that this development has opened doors to growing plants inside labs made on the Moon. Tap here to read about the process.

Artificial bone for medical emergencies

(Image: ESA)

In another major milestone, scientists from the ESA produced an artificial bone using 3D bioprinting technology. The agency says that this technology is a practical tool for emergency medicine in space as it would offer astronauts access to spare parts during a medical emergency. The success of this technology would be significant because astronauts themselves can print skin or bone, using a nutrient-rich ’bio-ink’ of human blood plasma, in case of a mishap. Tap here to read more. 

Extracting oxygen from Moondust

The ESA is also supporting British companies in developing equipment that would extract oxygen from the lunar regolith. Samples brought from the Moon confirm that the soil is made up of 40–45% oxygen but is unavailable for immediate use because it is bound up chemically as oxides in the form of minerals or glass. ESA has selected four companies- AVS, Metalysis, Open University and Redwire Space Europe- which are being led by Thales Alenia Space. This team will build a device that would extract 50-100 grams of oxygen from the lunar soil with a target of 70% extraction during the trial run.

Cement manufacturing in space

For quite a while, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) are testing the properties of cement in micro-gravity, the results of which would help in habitat construction on the Moon. The experts are basically understanding cement solidification in microgravity so as to develop a concrete-like material in space. If successful, this idea would help astronauts build habitats on the Moon and even Mars and would save them from cosmic radiation and meteorites.

Detergent development in micro-gravity

Another major preparation by scientists is the development of a special type of detergent specially designed for usage in space. NASA, in collaboration with the P&G, has developed 'Tide Infinity', a completely biodegradable detergent under the Telescience Investigation of Detergent Experiments (PGTIDE). Under this experiment, the astronauts aboard the ISS are studying the detergent's stain removal ingredients and the formulation’s stability in microgravity. If successful, the idea of using detergents in space could provide laundry options to astronauts on long-duration space missions. NASA says that it could also have practical applications here on Earth. 


Published May 15th, 2022 at 22:50 IST

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