Israeli Agronomy Reaches for the Moon

October 28, 2022 | Nathan Jeffay
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The early Zionists, and their successors, famously made the desert bloom, and the Jewish state to this day continues to export its agricultural innovations. Now Israeli scientists are exploring how they might raise plants in a very different nonarable surface: that of the moon. Nathan Jeffay writes:

Israeli scientists are planning to try growing a range of seeds into plants on the moon, in the most ambitious attempt yet at extraplanetary agriculture. The project is the next frontier for a research institute located in the Negev Desert in Israel’s south, a region famously inhospitable to agriculture but which has nevertheless been made to bloom in populated areas.

Astronauts on the International Space Station grow plants, but agriculture elsewhere in space has so far been limited to a Chinese cotton seed that sprouted on the moon in 2019. Ben-Gurion University researchers are working with universities in Australia and South Africa to prepare a tiny two-kilogram greenhouse with a range of seeds and plants that will head to the moon in 2025. It will travel aboard Beresheet 2, the second attempt at an unmanned moon landing by the Israeli SpaceIL nonprofit.

“Bases on the moon or colonies on Mars could become a reality, and we’re exploring whether we know how to grow plants there,” Professor Simon Barak of [Ben-Gurion University said], adding that the approach of sealed chambers dispatched from earth would be a likely solution. . . . He said that the project will have a strong citizen-science component, with people across Israel and outside it, including high-school students, urged to grow the same seeds and plants as those dispatched to the moon. These will constitute control groups, for comparison with those on the moon.

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