Nasa to cultivate crops on the Moon for the first time when humans visit it again in 2026

Duckweed, which is the smallest flowering plant on Earth, is usually found forming large “carpets” on the surface of lakes and ponds in the hot weather and can double in size every two to three days in good conditions.

It is sphere-shaped and does not have any roots, stems or leaves, so is likely to be more resilient to conditions in space.

Also known as watermeal, the plant is widely eaten in Asia and is a good source of protein, making it an ideal crop for astronauts.

Preparing to send astronauts to Mars

The Space Lab team said it hoped to “demonstrate the potential for sustained, off-planet propagation”, which Nasa said the project would help prepare for “long-duration human presence on the Moon, which will help prepare Nasa to send astronauts to Mars”.

Although plants have been raised on the International Space Station, they have never been successfully grown on the Moon.

The 2019 Chinese Chang’e 4 mission managed to cultivate a four-day-old cotton seedling, but it died after the capsule suffered a thermoregulation issue.

‘Transformative lunar science’

“This will be our first opportunity since Apollo to leverage the unique capabilities of human explorers to conduct transformative lunar science,” said Joel Kearns, a deputy associate administrator for exploration in Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Artemis III will explore the south polar region of the Moon, which is thought to hold water in ice deposits.

Other science projects which will be deployed by the astronauts include a seismometer designed to carry out long-term monitoring of moonquakes, in the lunar south polar region.

A third project will examine whether electric currents can be used to search for ice deposits under the lunar surface.

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