February 2023 Newsletter

February 2023 Newsletter

Click here to view the full piece!


What the crop? Plant the Moon Challenge springs to life this month!

By Exolith Lab

Help astronauts return to the moon and prepare for Mars with the Plant the Moon and Plant Mars Challenges.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to farm crops in moon soil? Or what would happen if you channeled your inner Martian and grew potatoes on Mars? The Plant the Moon Challenge is a global science experiment and research challenge open to all ages and levels of experience that allows participants to do just that— here on Earth! 

During the Plant the Moon/Plant Mars Challenge, teams around the world design and conduct a series of experiments using Exolith Lab's Lunar or Martian regolith simulants. Participants are sent a kit containing 5 kg of their simulant of choice, a pH probe, and an informational flyer. The other constituents — such as what seeds to grow, nutrients or fertilizers added to the simulant, and how much water is given to the plants — are all set by the team members.  

Throughout the 10-week growth period, teams will document their findings to compete for best-in-show awards and showcase their projects at a virtual symposium. Their work helps scientists at organizations like NASA better understand how to utilize Lunar and Martian soils to produce crops for future missions!

Plant the Moon Challenge applications have already closed for 2023, with the growth period for teams starting this month on February 13. If you're interested in learning more or applying for the Fall 2023 challenge, visit plantthemoon.com or click on the link below.



University of Central Florida Research-Based Course Makes its Debut!

By Exolith Lab

This spring, a new opportunity in ISRU lunar and Martian plant growth has sprouted here at Exolith Lab!

Students will get direct experience studying phytoremediation and the effectiveness of various methods for nutrient amendments in the growth of seedlings in regolith. Steven Elsaid (BA Biology, Exolith Lab) is running the class with the guidance of Dr. Julie Brisset (interim director of the Florida Space Institute) and Dr. Eric Goolsby (assistant professor of Biology at the University of Central Florida), with the hopes of diversifying the space industry to include more biologists and chemists. With two students currently working under Elsaid, the course is one of very few research-based, hands-on programs offered nationwide, and looks forward to expanding in the future.

Steven says, “With time I hope that the projects will grow into both larger and more niche subjects.”


Congratulations Annalyn!

By Exolith Lab

Since August of 2022, Annalyn Connor, an undergraduate Aerospace Engineering student at the University of Central Florida, has been researching worm interaction in lunar and Martian regoliths. Annalyn has been conducting experiments at Exolith Lab in which red wiggler earthworms are placed in Lunar Highlands and Martian Global simulant. Their life cycles, reproductivity, and added nutrients to the harsh soils are then examined and compared to other known methods of regolith fertilization. Since beginning her project, she has received additional funding from the University of Central Florida's Office of Undergraduate Research and was recently awarded the OUR grant to conduct further vermiculture research this semester.