Now there's China + SpaceX. SpaceX is now already launching humans to LEO and their long since stated goal is Mars. And China is also making rapid and major progress in expanding beyond Earth. And China+Russia have already stated a goal of establishing an ideally international manned moon base.
The future has never looked brighter for manned exploration of the stars, and that's going to impact motivations.
"Paul and Ferl applied three times over the course of 11 years for a chance to work with the lunar regolith."
Sounds like people had the idea a while back but apparently getting even just 12 grams of regolith from the [checks notes] 382kg NASA have is a bit tricky.
(Anyone know why NASA are reluctant to let people have regolith?)
I'm no expert but this sounds more like using lunar regolith as a hydroponics growth medium than as a soil. Next they might try compressing the lunar samples into more traditional hydroponic pellets and compare the results.
I do wonder how long you'd need to "Mark Watney" the lunar regolith before it becomes proper soil.
Since you’re right about aeroponics, I wonder what the practicality of using moon dust as a medium is. Perhaps it contains some amount of minerals that could be extracted by plants, thereby reducing how much of it we need to ship to the moon? I’m not even sure that’s possible without established microbial and mycelial cultures – do plants extract minerals from dirt on their own?
The experiment results aren’t overtly meaningful here in any case. I thought NASA was so interested in aeroponics partially because of how useless the moon is as a medium for agriculture.
Aeroponics has the added benefit of being really frugal with your water supply. Most of the water in a hydroponic system is literally just sitting around in a tube, useless.
Also, a leak in an aeroponics system is way less catastrophic in a low-to-no gravity situation.
I think using moon dust as a rooting medium would be helpful for water retention in a pseudo-hydroponic setup, as the surface tension would help keep the water from flowing away from the roots. It certainly beats trying to ship the stuff from earth on a rocket, at the very least.
Why wouldn’t this be the expected result?
Proving this basic initial step will open up the avenue for further research with larger amounts of regolith in the hopefully near future.