Biological Systems in the Lunar Environment

The understanding of how biological systems and processes are impacted by the lunar environment is extremely limited, with many key knowledge gaps existing in areas of physiological change, response, acclimation, and adaptation. Biological research investigations are focused on studying the impacts of this unique extreme environment on the lunar surface and in orbit. The principal environmental factors of the Moon that are associated with effects on biology include solar and galactic cosmic radiations, lunar albedo radiation, one-sixth gravity, and lunar dust and regolith. Studies will focus on characterize physiological changes within individual organs and combined physiological systems and discovering the root causes and underlying biochemical and molecular biological pathways and networks responsible for the observed biological effects.

A clear plate has small circular spaces arranged in the shape of an eight by six grid. On the left side, four of the spaces contain tiny samples of volcanic ash simulant, each sprouting a set of green leaves. On the right side, three tiny samples of lunar soil sprout smaller green leaves
Scientists at the University of Florida discovered in 2022 that plants can grow in nutrient-poor lunar regolith. In the image, the Arabidopsis thaliana plant is shown after 16 days of growth in samples from Apollo missions. There were clear physical differences between those grown in the volcanic ash lunar simulant, left, and the lunar soil, right. Credit: UF/IFAS; Tyler Jones.

To conduct detailed, deep biological analyses that cannot be conducted on humans, space biosciences use model organisms and in vitro physiological systems of human biology. The data from these studies will advance fundamental knowledge and translate to understanding human health in the extreme space exploration environment beyond low Earth orbit. To understand plant physiology, a combination of crop plants and traditional genetic models of plants are used to build knowledge that will lead to sustainable agriculture on the Moon and beyond to Mars.

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