An illustration depicts NASA's Viper rover making tracks in the lunar dust as it travels near the moon's South Pole. Image courtesy of NASA
Nov. 22 (UPI) -- NASA has awarded $2.3 million to scientists to study how to grow vegetation in lunar soil as human exploration prepares to go beyond Earth's atmosphere, scientists said Tuesday.
Researchers say their priorities are advancing work that will grow organisms in lunar soil as part of the Thrive in DEep Space, or TIDES, program.
"The ultimate goal of the TIDES initiative is to enable long-duration space missions and improve life on Earth through innovative research," NASA said in a statement. "Space Biology supported research will enable the study of the effects of environmental stressors in spaceflight on model organisms, that will both inform future fundamental research, as well as provide valuable information that will better enable human exploration of deep space."
The projects will test how lunar soil, also known as regolith, works as a "growth substrate" for crop-producing plants "including grains, tomatoes and potatoes," NASA said.
Researchers will also work to understand how growth in lunar regolith influences plant and microbial interactions, and how in turn, these interactions affect plant development and health. They will identify and test bioremediation methods and techniques to enhance the ability of regolith to act as a growth substrate, and understand how lunar dust exposure impacts host and microbial interactions "in human-analogous model systems under simulated microgravity conditions," the NASA release continued.
11 grants have been awarded to ten institutions in nine states
The research, which will run from 2024-2027, will focus on the same type of regolith NASA has located at potential landing sites for future moon exploration missions.