Google and NASA have teamed up for a new project that will allow people to taste fresh basil exported from the moon. The daring partnership kicks off a new business model that could not only change space entrepreneurship, but also distance barriers between the Earth and its only natural satellite. If basil and other herbs can grow in controlled environments, so could people.
NASA’s Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team is busy creating an aluminium can no bigger than a coffee container which will allow them to send basil, turnip and Arabidopsis seeds to the moon and bring back fresh herbs. However, since this project would have normally cost $300 million if it took place twenty years ago, NASA had to find a cheaper way to pursue its plan, Planetary Scientist Dr. Chris McKay estimates. The remaining problem was how to feed people with fresh basil from the moon. The answer came naturally: Google.
“How can we send plants to the moon soon?” NASA wondered. The natural answer came from Google and its bold project named Lunar XPrize which ends in 2015. “There are many potential rides to the moon in the near future,” NASA said.
While this agency will be able to cut costs and pay only $2 million for cultivating basil on the moon, Google is wisely spending $20 million; the Google Lunar XPrize will be offered to a private company that will successfully launch a robotic spacecraft which lands on the moon, travels no less than 500 metres below, above or on the lunar surface and ultimately sends back two mooncasts to Earth. Bonus prizes include surviving the lunar night or exploring lunar artifacts and completing in-space or terrestrial milestones will award prize money earlier.
In total, Google has put $40 million at stake and so far, Hungarian team Puli “has completed a successful simulation of its lunar rover mission at the Pacific International Space Centre for Exploration Systems (PISCES) in Hawaii,” Google said.
Google NASA are set to feed people with fresh basil from the moon by meeting halfway; while Google is going to offer the transportation, NASA is building a container packed not only with the plant itself, but also with sensors, cameras, electronics which will allow NASA’s Lunar Plant Growth Habitat team to receive image broadcasts of the basil as it grows. After Google safely lands on the moon, water will be added to the seeds and a small reservoir will wet the filter paper, thus initiating seeds’ germination. The container’s air will be enough to last for at least five days and the plant’s growth will be closely monitored for five to ten days. Moreover, NASA adds that natural sunlight will be the plant germination’s source of illumination.
If plants can survive radiation, grow in partial gravity and develop in a controlled environment, creating life on the moon would not seem so far-fetched, therefore bringing Google NASA one step closer to feeding people with basil grown on the earth’s only natural satellite.
“The first picture of a plant growing on another world – that picture will live forever. It will be as iconic as the first footprint on the Moon,” Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center Dr. Pete Worden said.
Google’s Lunar XPrize will help NASA to cut back costs and start crowdsourcing its experiments, rather than spending millions of dollars. At the same time, if Google NASA can feed people with fresh basil from the moon until 2015, the public-private collaboration will only bring the earth closer to space exploration as far as both time and space are concerned.
By Gabriela Motroc