Idea Hatched to Grow First Flower on the Moon
A prototype greenhouse sits next to U.S. Congress Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (left) and Jane Poynter, president and founder of Paragon Space Development Corporation (right). Paragon has teamed up with Odyssey Moon, a contender for the Google Lunar X Prize, to grow the first flower on the moon.
Credit: Paragon Space Development Corporation

A lunar bouquet of flowers could greet astronauts who next set foot on the moon.

Odyssey Moon, a team competing for a $30 million purse in the Google Lunar X Prize contest, officially joined forces with another private space firm Friday to deliver the first greenhouse to the moon as part the "Lunar Oasis" project.

"Imagine a bright flower on a plant in a crystal clear growth chamber on the surface of the Moon, with the full Earth rising above the Moonscape behind it; these are the ideas that got me interested in space," said Jane Poynter, president and founder of Paragon Space Development Corporation.

The Paragon-developed greenhouse would become part of Odyssey Moon's quest to win the Google Lunar X Prize. That $30 million race requires private teams to land a robot on the moon and complete several tasks, including traveling 1,640 feet (500 m) and sending high definition images back to Earth.

Paragon previously bred the first animals through complete life cycles in space, and grew the first aquatic plant in space. The Tucson-based firm is also a manufacturer of components for NASA's Orion spacecraft that will return astronauts to the moon.

"Plants have been grown in essentially zero gravity and of course in Earth gravity, but never in fractions of gravity," said Volker Kern, Paragon's director of NASA Human Spaceflight Programs.

Kern previously conducted plant growth experiments on the space shuttle and hopes the new Lunar Oasis project will help understand how a lunar environment's one-sixth gravity affects plant growth.

A NASA Ames planetary scientist, Chris McKay, has also signed on to provide support for the Lunar Oasis science team.

"The first plant to grow from seed and complete its life cycle on another world will be a significant step in the expansion of life beyond the Earth," McKay noted. "The sooner we do it the better."

Paragon itself grew out of the Biosphere 2 project, which Poynter participated in along with future husband and Paragon CEO Taber MacCallum. The couple spent two years living with six other people in a 3.2-acre greenhouse structure in Oracle, Arizona — the largest closed system ever built.

Any lunar greenhouse would have to remain just as tightly sealed, given the inhospitable environment on the moon.? But a successful delivery might provide a boost for Odyssey Moon, even if the space firm does not capture the Google Lunar X Prize and beat out other teams in the race to the moon.

"We are thrilled to have Paragon join the team with their expertise in thermal and biological systems," said Robert Richards, Odyssey Moon founder and CEO. "I am incredibly inspired by our hope to grow the first plant on another world."

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