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NASA's Artemis III mission aims to grow plants on the moon by 2026

Gardening under the stars? That’s so old-fashioned. NASA’s setting its sights on a more extreme landscape: the Moon. In 2026, the Artemis III mission will land astronauts on the lunar surface, carrying a miniature greenhouse to grow plants on the moon that could change the future of space exploration.

Why grow plants on the moon?

If humanity truly aims to establish permanent settlements on the Moon or embark on long-duration voyages to Mars, mastering the art of space farming becomes not just beneficial but absolutely essential.

Plants are Earth’s original, solar-powered life-support machines. Their ability to recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen and convert sunlight into edible biomass has sustained life on our planet for eons.

But transplanting this system into the harsh vacuum of space brings extraordinary challenges. Extreme temperatures, intense radiation, and the lack of familiar soil and gravity create a hostile environment. Yet, overcoming these obstacles is key to our future as a spacefaring species.

Space agriculture promises to reduce our reliance on Earth-supplied resources, making exploration more sustainable. It’s the path to a future where astronauts cultivate their own food and oxygen, creating self-sufficient outposts among the stars.

LEAF: NASA’s moonshot for plants

The Lunar Effects on Agricultural Flora (LEAF) is NASA’s plant-growing experiment for the ages. Designed by Space Lab Technologies, this miniature greenhouse is getting ready to face the lunar environment head-on.

Astronauts on Artemis III will set up these plant chambers, carefully sowing the seeds of three special plants: thale cress, duckweed, and Brassica rapa (which is basically a speedy version of cabbage). Their goal is to see how these Earth-born plants handle the unique challenges of growing on the Moon.

Meet the moon plants

Thale cress, Duckweed and brassica rapa are the chosen ones for this lunar saga. Each plant, a potential pioneer in space agriculture, holds the key to sustainable space exploration.

Thale cress

Thale cress, a humble plant with a comprehensive genetic blueprint, stands at the forefront of space botany research.

Scientists have meticulously mapped its entire genetic code, making it the perfect space guinea pig. This little plant is about to embark on a mission: serving as a living laboratory in space.

Exposed to the harsh realities of space – like intense radiation and no atmospheric shield – any changes in its genes will be like a flashing neon sign. These mutations will tell scientists a fascinating story about how space affects living things.

By studying thale cress, NASA can learn how to protect future astronauts from radiation and even develop crops for future space colonies.


Duckweed, a marvel of biological efficiency, thrives with a simplicity that belies its potential. This plant, essentially a floating cluster of leaves, dispenses with the complexity of roots and stems.

Yet, it is a powerhouse of nutrition, boasting a rapid growth rate that could turn it into the cornerstone of space agriculture.

Its resilience and minimalistic approach to existence make it an ideal candidate for off-Earth farming experiments.

In the microgravity of space, where every square inch and every drop of water counts, duckweed’s ability to produce high yields with little input could revolutionize how astronauts approach food production.

Its adaptability to a variety of conditions on Earth hints at its potential to thrive in controlled environments elsewhere, making it a leading contender for sustaining life on missions far from home.

Brassica rapa

Brassica rapa, with its rapid life cycle, could very well be the poster child for efficient space farming. This relative of the cabbage sprints through its growth phases, offering a swift return on the investment of planting it in extraterrestrial farms.

Brassica rapa’s rapid growth rate positions it perfectly for studies focused on how Earth’s crops adjust to the harsh environment of space.

Achieving successful cultivation of this plant on the moon or Mars would represent a significant advancement. It would highlight progress in developing life support systems that can sustain human life beyond our planet.

Providing fresh, nutritious food quickly is crucial for the long-term health and morale of space travelers. Brassica rapa could emerge as a vital resource in the hostile and unforgiving environment of outer space.

Growing more than moon plants

“This research will be a pivotal step toward understanding how we might use agriculture in space to support human crew, paving the way for sustained Lunar exploration and even missions to Mars,” says Christine Escobar, vice president of Space Lab Technologies.

LEAF is the star of the show, but Artemis III has another science payload on board. NASA’s also sending equipment to monitor moonquakes and search for hidden resources like water ice. These clues are vital to setting up a base where we can stay for longer periods.

What would a space farmer be like?

A space farmer would take on the pioneering role of growing crops in the challenging environment beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

Such an individual would have to adapt traditional farming skills to meet the extraordinary demands of extraterrestrial agriculture. The following details offer insight into the multifaceted nature of a space farmer’s role:

Highly skilled and versatile

Space farmers would need a deep understanding of plant biology, hydroponics, and aeroponics, coupled with the mechanical skills to maintain and repair their farming equipment under zero or low-gravity conditions. They’d be part scientist, part engineer, capable of troubleshooting both biological and technical issues.

Innovator and problem solver

Given the unpredictable nature of space environments, they’d excel in innovation and improvisation, constantly developing new methods to enhance crop yield, nutritional value, and resistance to space-related stresses such as radiation and microgravity.

Physically and psychologically resilient

The physical isolation and confined spaces of extraterrestrial habitats demand a high level of mental and emotional resilience.

Space farmers would be adept at managing the psychological challenges of long-duration missions, maintaining their well-being, and fostering a positive living and working environment for themselves and their crewmates.

Eco-conscious and sustainable thinkers

Understanding the closed-loop ecosystems of space habitats, space farmers would practice sustainable agriculture, focusing on resource conservation, recycling waste, and ensuring the ecological balance of their farming practices to support long-term human survival and health.

Enthusiastic about moon plant cultivation education

They’d likely share their knowledge and experiences, contributing to educational programs and scientific communication. Their insights would not only pave the way for future space farmers but also inspire sustainable practices on Earth.

Future-oriented and ethically minded

As pioneers on the frontier of space, they’d be deeply aware of the ethical implications of introducing Earth life to other planets. Their work would be guided by principles that respect the extraterrestrial environments they work in.

Collaborative team players

Space farming would require close coordination with other crew members, scientists on Earth, and automated systems.

Space farmers would excel in teamwork and communication, ensuring that agriculture integrates smoothly with other life support and research activities.

Artemis III: Beyond growing plants on moon

Artemis III is about a return to the Moon, but it signifies something bigger. It’s a stepping stone toward a future where we don’t just visit other worlds, we live on them.

NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy highlights the importance of these experiments: “These three deployed instruments were chosen to begin scientific investigations that will address key Moon to Mars science objectives.”


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