NASA is planning on sending plants to the moon — or, rather, on having plants sent to the moon:
Can humans live and work on the moon? Not just visit for a few days but stay for decades? A first step in long term presence is to send plants. As seedlings, they can be as sensitive as humans to environmental conditions, sometimes even more so. They carry genetic material that can be damaged by radiation as can that of humans. They can test the lunar environment for us acting as a “canary in a coal mine”.
If we send plants and they thrive, then we probably can. Thriving plants are needed for life support (food, air, water) for colonists. And plants provide psychological comfort, as the popularity of the greenhouses in Antarctica and on the Space Station show.
Good idea, but how can we send plants to the Moon soon? Hitchhiking. Thanks to Google, there are many potential rides to the moon in the near future, with commercial spacecraft companies competing to collect the Google Lunar X-Prize in 2015.
We are constructing a small technology demonstration unit to study germination of plants in lunar gravity and radiation on the Moon. The self-contained habitat will have a mass of about 1 kg and would be a payload on a commercial lunar lander – the Moon Express lander, part of the Google Lunar X-prize competition. After landing in late 2015, water will be added to the seeds in the module and their growth will be monitored for 5-10 days and compared to Earth based controls. Seeds will include Arabidopsis, basil, and turnips. This will be the first life sciences experiment on another world and an important first step in the utilization of plants for human life support. Follow up experiments will improve the technology in the growth module and allow for more extensive plant experiments.