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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Note on Emerging Science

Air Date: Week of May 29, 2009

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The moon is thought of as a cold, barren place. But scientists are saying it doesn’t have to be that way. As Liz Gross reports, they hope to grow mustard plants in a shoebox-sized greenhouse on the surface of the moon by 2011.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.

CURWOOD: And I’m Steve Curwood.

Coming up: do it yourself – how to build a dinosaur. But first this note on emerging science from Liz Gross.

[COUNTDOWN FROM LUNAR MISSION]

GROSS: Between 1969 and 1972, NASA sent astronauts to the moon six times.

[SOUND OF LIFTOFF]

GROSS: Since then, earthlings haven’t set foot on its surface. But in 2011, a lunar lander plans to apologize for our long absence – by bringing flowers.

[THEME]

GROSS: Engineers at Paragon Space Development announced their plans to send a small greenhouse to the moon. At one foot tall and just inches in diameter, the structure has enough room for six mustard seed plants.

Paragon hopes to show that a plant can successfully complete its life cycle on the moon. This won’t be an easy task. Lunar nights can plummet to 240 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Researchers worry the flowers won’t be able to survive the extreme cold.

Fortunately, mustard plants grow fast. The whole process, from seed to flower takes just two weeks, which happens to be the length of a lunar day. This means the project can be completed before day turns to frigid night.

Cold nights are not the only obstacle to this moon garden. The engineers are also concerned with controlling for radiation, ensuring the plants get water, and designing a greenhouse strong enough to withstand the trip through space.

They see the experiment as a crucial step towards human existence on the moon’s surface, albeit in a biodome. If nothing else, the image of a fragile lunar flower, with earth rising in the background, could prompt our curiosity about the moon to blossom once again.

That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Liz Gross.

 

Links

For more on the mustard-moon project, click here

 

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