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One Small Step for Agriculture? Scientists Grow Plants in Moon Soil for the First Time
From Matt Damon’s Mars potatoes in The Martian to the valuable space-grain that Tribbles were so fond of in the second season of Star Trek, science fiction has given us no shortage of opportunities to watch plants grow in space over the years. In fact, the lead horticulturist for NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) has said that she was first inspired by Star Trek: The Next Generation ’s Geordi La Forge. Nonetheless, the exact interaction between lunar materials and Earth’s terrestrial biology (specifically, experiments that determined whether plants could actually grow in the powdery gray soil that covers the surface of the moon) has eluded scientists so far — until now.
For the first time in human history, researchers from the University of Florida have successfully grown plants in moon soil — technically referred to as “lunar regolith” — from seed to sprout. Results from the NASA-funded study were published in Communications Biology on May 12, and they provide considerable insight into the future of interstellar agriculture.
A Meticulous Experiment
This particular lunar regolith was originally collected by Apollo missions 11, 12 and 17. The catch? They only had about 12 grams of it to work with, so each critical step of the project had to execute flawlessly in order to complete the experiment.
Researchers first divided the lunar soil into 12 separate plastic plates typically used for cell cultures. Then, they carefully moistened the soil with a nutrient solution before adding a sprinkle of seeds from the Arabidopsis plant, a small flowering weed native to Eurasia and Africa. To create the experiment’s control group, seeds were also planted in soil that simulated extreme environments on Mars and Earth, as well as a terrestrial substance made from volcanic ash that mimics authentic lunar soil.
“After two days, they started to sprout!” said Anna-Lisa Paul, professor in Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida and lead author on the paper, in a press release . “Everything sprouted. I can’t tell you how astonished we were! Every plant — whether in a lunar sample or in a control — looked the same up until about day six.”
As the experiment progressed, the researchers found that the authentic lunar soil plants were developing more slowly. Many showed signs of severe stress, similar to those indicating adverse reactions to salt, metal and reactive oxygen species. Although the plants indicated that they found the lunar soil environment stressful, the few tiny sprouts have proven that lunar soil wouldn’t interrupt the signals involved in plant growth.
Gardening in Space Is No Easy Feat
The idea of growing plants in space isn’t exactly new — astronauts from the Soviet space program spent more than a decade proving they could cultivate seeds in microgravity. The effort finally paid off in 1982, when they harvested roughly 200 Arabidopsis seeds from a greenhouse module on the Salyut 7 space station, taking them back to Earth where they were able to germinate and produce healthy plants. When American astrophysicist Michael Foale stayed on Russia’s Mir space station in 1997, he was able to germinate seeds of Brassica rapa — commonly known as mizuna — also bringing them back to Earth to develop into viable plants.
Since then, NASA has continued the study of plant growth in microgravity on the ISS. The Vegetable Production System, a space garden known as “Veggie” that’s about the size of a carry-on piece of luggage and holds up to six plants, successfully cultivated pak choi and mustard greens in 2021 . Later that year, astronauts threw a taco party after harvesting red and green Hatch chilies using the same system.
The Veggie system works by protecting plants in a “pillow” filled with clay-based growth medium and fertilizer. These special bags help distribute water, nutrients and air around the roots, which would otherwise suffocate due to the way fluids in space form bubbles. Another ISS growth chamber, the Advanced Plant Habitat, uses LED lights and controlled-release fertilizer in an automated enclosure, complete with cameras and over 180 different sensors that connect directly to a team on the ground at Kennedy Space Center.
Moon Farming Has a Future
Necessary nutrients, like vitamins K, C and D, break down over time in the freeze-dried food traditionally consumed in space. Growing healthy produce in micro- or zero-gravity provides a solution to vitamin or nutrient deficiencies among astronauts while reducing reliance on freeze-dried and prepackaged meals (after all, all it took to give sailors scurvy was a lack of vitamin C). Plus, investing in space agriculture now may come in handy for the next generation of explorers, should humans end up colonizing other planets or lose existing landscapes for healthy crops on Earth due to extreme weather events.
It’s not just about providing astronauts with fresh produce on missions that may last months or years at a time, but also about their mental health. NASA’s Human Research Program is currently studying how space gardening affects astronauts’ moods and whether it can help them cope with isolation or enhance their connection to Earth while stationed between the stars. So far, no one involved in the study has viewed their work with plants in space as anything but advantageous.
There are still several variables that need addressing when it comes to the moon soil experiment, such as whether or not the location where the soil was collected would have an effect on how the plants respond to it. The study also indicated that plants grown in younger moon soil showed more minor signs of stress than those grown in mature soil, which is exposed to more cosmic wind and solar rays on the moon’s surface.
One thing is certain: The experiment offers a far better understanding of cultivating plants for food and oxygen for extended stays on the moon and future space missions than we had before. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, seeing as NASA’s Artemis Program plans to return humans to the moon and build a basecamp on the surface by 2024. The research may also help identify more sustainable farming techniques for our own planet’s uncertain future.
“This research is critical to NASA’s long-term human exploration goals as we’ll need to use resources found on the Moon and Mars to develop food sources for future astronauts living and operating in deep space,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “This fundamental plant growth research is also a key example of how NASA is working to unlock agricultural innovations that could help us understand how plants might overcome stressful conditions in food-scarce areas here on Earth.”
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A saber match beginning
Sulu stalks the decks with a foil
Fencing was an ancient Earth sport in which two competitors in protective clothing faced off against each other armed with thin, blunted sword -like weapons. Each of three different weapons (foil, sabre, or épée) had different rules. For example, sabre was the only weapon where one could use their sword in a cutting motion. The aim of the sport was to score points by making "touches" with the weapon on the opponent's body. The winner was the one who first reached a certain number of points. ( citation needed • edit )
In 2258 of an alternate reality , Hikaru Sulu told James T. Kirk that his combat training was in fencing, which he later demonstrated while fighting Romulans with a sword on the Narada 's drilling rig over Vulcan . ( Star Trek )
Lieutenant Sulu was at one point an enthusiastic fencer. He claimed the sport "tones the muscle, sharpens the eye, improves the posture." In 2266 , when he was affected by the Psi 2000 virus , he chased crewmen around the corridors with a foil. ( TOS : " The Naked Time ")
Captain Jean-Luc Picard was a fencer (Sabre was his weapon of choice, as seen in Season 1 Episode 23 "We'll Always Have Paris") and his opponents aboard the USS Enterprise -D included Commander Riker , Lieutenant Dean , and Guinan . ( TNG : " We'll Always Have Paris ", " I Borg ", " Lessons ")
In 3189 , Gray Tal asked Adira Tal why they confined themself to engineering, when they could be exploring the USS Discovery . Gray suggested fencing as an activity to explore. ( DIS : " Scavengers ")
External links [ ]
- Fencing at Wikipedia
- Fencing at Memory Beta , the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
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The Lie That Led To George Takei's Favorite Star Trek Scene
"The Naked Time" was either the fourth or the seventh episode of " Star Trek ," depending on whether you adhere to broadcast order or production order. For the record, true Trekkies go by production order, while total losers go by broadcast order. In the episode, Kirk, Spock, and Lt. Disposable beam down to the planet of Psi 2000, only to find the planet's small research team mysteriously frozen to death. While there, they also contract a mysterious virus, which they take back up to the Enterprise. The virus, which spreads through touch, causes the infected to behave like they're drunk, lowering inhibitions, and inspiring unruly behavior among the crew.
In one of the episode's most famous scenes, Lt. Hikaru Sulu ( George Takei ), with his inhibitions lowered and his jersey joyously jettisoned, has given into his hidden D'Artagnan fantasies, taking up a rapier and charging about the hallways of the Enterprise, challenging crewmates to duels. The scene became so notorious and iconic that it inspired a swordfighting sequence in J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek" film, wherein Sulu (now John Cho) grapples with a baddie on a laser platform.
"The Naked Time" is also actor George Takei's favorite episode.
The Sword Scene
Takei tells this story in a video interview with the Television Academy : The writer of "The Naked Time," John D.F. Black, originally intended for Sulu to take up a Samurai sword. When visiting the "Star Trek" set, Black told Takei about his plans. Takei was diplomatic about it, pointing out that a samurai sword was "ethnically consistent," seeing as Takei was of Japanese ancestry. But he also had a suggestion. Takei, a 20th century man, didn't play samurai as a kid, recalling, rather, that he and friends would play Robin Hood in his backyard, inspired by the 1938 film " The Adventures of Robin Hood ." His mom even made him a Robin Hood costume. Takei says he got to play Robin Hood because it was his backyard and he had the costume. The other kids had to be the other Merry Men.
Sulu, Takei figured, was raised in the 23rd century, and wouldn't necessarily be inspired by samurai either, so he suggested to Black that Sulu have a rapier instead. Takei, game and energized, would duel his way into one of the series' more notable scenes.
Actors Are Masters at Everything
Could George Takei fence? Well, in his words , yes. But, as we learned from the recent film " Licorice Pizza ," if you ask an actor if they can do something, they will automatically say yes just to get the role. To quote Takei: "You never ask an actor if we can do anything, because if it's related to the part, we are masters at it. I said [to the screenwriter, about fencing] 'Oh, it's my favorite sport! I used to fence when I was young!"
Takei then arranged to take his first formal fencing lesson at Falcon Studios on Sunset Blvd., and Takei's instructor, by magical coincidence, was Ralph Faulkner, the fight choreographer for "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and Basil Rathbone's fight double in that film. "The Naked Time" not only permitted George Takei to display his fencing skills and relive an actual childhood play scenario of his, but put him in contact with the very swordfighter he grew up watching.
It's no wonder "The Naked Time" is Takei's favorite episode.
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