Updated
8|14|06
LUNAX to be
reactivated


Challenges for Lunar Agriculture (below)

Harvest Moon - Newsletter

MI.S.S.T. - Milwaukee Space Studies Team

NEWS & New Developments

LUNAX - Lunar National Agricultural Experiment

LINKS to work elsewhere



 

 

Challenges for Lunar Agriculture

In the fall of 1988, an LRS working group took up the challenge of entering NSS' Space Habitat Design Competition in the category: "Advanced Lunar Outpost for 1000 to 5000 persons". In the course of putting together our award winning entry "Prinzton" (our three-village lunar town of 3,000 people was situated in a rille valley bottom just north of the crater Prinz, SE of Aristarchus), team member Joe Suszynski of Chicago, drew our attention to the tremendous energy needs of agriculture.

To get the community's vital food crops through the fourteen day long lunar "nightspan" with the same amount of light provided free by the Sun during the equally long "dayspan", would take a power generation capacity several times as large as that needed to take care of all the settlement's other needs such as construction, industry, transportation, air/water circulation and treatment, etc.

Any settlement's success might, in large part, depend on knowing how little and/or how infrequently their crops would need a light-fix during the nightspan to coast until the next dayspan growth period - and still produce an acceptable harvest.

Early Soviet experiments showed that if the plants are simply chilled to a few degrees above freezing and left in darkness, they would survive two weeks of such a regime just fine, springing back during the alternating two weeks of light-feast to produce good yields. Eric Drexler, while still in high school, performed a similar experiment with similar results.

This is one solution, but we wanted to know all the options. We wanted to know if there was a minimal lighting pattern that would keep the plants not just alive, but growing. So many hours a day, or so many every other day? It would probably turn out that different types and strains of plants did best on different light diets.

We realized that there might be a heat-buildup problem. But if the lamps used were on the surface, in vacuum, and just the infra-red-filtered light entered the agricultural areas through the same pathways as heat-filtered sunlight was allowed in during dayspan, this heat buildup could be minimized.

Today we realize that part of the solution is to use non-traditional lighting: recently developed red LEDs, used as "task lighting" instead of wasteful "ambient lighting", is a very promising, very efficient way to grow plants with power.

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MI.S.S.T. - Milwaukee Space Studies Team

Yet to find the minimal nightspan lighting needs of each kind of plant might be invaluable to the pioneers who will need every trick in the book, every ace up the sleeve, to win the game of self-sufficiency. It should not cost a lot of money to set up and follow through a simple experiment following a plant through the growth cycle at a chosen lighting pattern. But to provide useful data, the experiment would have to be done many times, varying light inputs, hours per day, the pattern of lighting (one longer period per day versus several shorter periods, etc.). And we needed to have data for all candidate crops.

We put together a "Space Studies Institute Support Team" and put out a pamphlet aimed at enlisting home hobby gardeners, and supplying them with guidelines to set up and run the experiment. This project received some appreciable national publicity, but only hit and miss interest from flesh and blood individual home hobby gardeners. Interest is cheap. Taking the trouble to carefully perform these lighting experiments in one's basement or garage on a plant species of one's choice seems to be another matter. Simply put, the data from our rag tag green thumb army of enthused participants did not flood in. The effort got us nowhere.

But one member of our team was not discouraged. Convinced of the crucial importance of this data to the success of any prospective lunar settlement , LRS member-at-large David Dunlop kept exploring all the avenues: experiment media, ideal experiment crop species, university support systems, the bibliography of books written about lunar agriculture experiments, soils systems, lunar simulant, hydroponics, lighting options, and on and on.

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LUNAX - Lunar National Agricultural Experiment Corporation

Dave's* brainchild, LUNAX, was launched at an August 1990 retreat-lke conference he had organized, in Door County, Wisconsin, at the Chateau Hutter north of Sturgeon Bay. We developed science experiments to address some of the interdisciplinary problems involving space-based agriculture such as energy supply and consumption, use of "local" resources in the lunar and Martian environment for soils, and the adaptive response of various plants to different environmental conditions. Our target audience was high school science and Ag-science teachers, who would hopefully get their students involved, producing data in good experiment conditions. This was a chance for students not just to repeat an experiment whose outcome was already known - it was a chance to find out something not yet known, to do real science. If the crops died, the experiment was not a failure. It would produce valid data points.

[* Other charter board members included then LRS President Mark Kaehny, and MMM Editor Peter Kokh, with a list of advisors from Academia , NASA etc.]


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The LUNAX I conference (a follow up conference a year later was canceled because of minimal registration) produced two experiments:

(1) The Nightspan Dark Hardiness Experiment controls lighting schedules to follow the twenty-eight day cycle of sunlight and darkness on the Moon's surface.

(2) The Lunar Soil Evolution Experiment takes standard, well-characterized "Minnesota Lunar Simulant" material as a starter soil medium for plants and follows the fertility of the soil, experimenting with variations of organic additions, season after season. The idea is to find the best and quickest strategy to evolve soil derived from lunar regolith into rich, fertile, productive soil, in as short a period as possible.

The initial trials of the LUNAX Nightspan Dark Hardiness Experiments were done at East High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Lac Courte d'Oreille Community College in Hayward in the fall of 1990 and spring of 1991. Cybil Fisher a senior at East High submitted her experiments to the State FFA contest where she was a finalist in the national FFA. Cybil 's work then won the national FFA student recognition award in the fall of 1991, winning her an $8000 scholarship.

In November '91, a second revised edition of the initial experiments was produced with special appendices on plants, use of Lunar Soil Simulant materials, and a bibliography of sources on Lunar agriculture. Supplemental materials about the Lunar simulant material produced by the University of Minnesota Space Science Center and materials about Wisconsin Fast Plant materials and supplies from Carolina Biological were also included with second edition materials.

Promoting and publicizing this effort, Dave Dunlop crisscrossed Wisconsin and neighboring states (especially Minnesota and Illinois). Presentations on these experiment tracks were made at the '91 and '92 conferences of the Wisconsin. Society of Science Teachers and at the '91 and '92 International Space Development Conferences in San Antonio and Washington, respectively.

In June '92 the FFA New Horizons magazine carried an article about Cybil Fisher receiving the national student recognition award, with a short article about LUNAX. As a direct result of this exposure approximately 60 requests for information about these experiments were received from 37 states. Requests have come from from both science instructors and students at the elementary, high school and college levels.

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Harvest Moon

To help the cause, we started a Lunar Agriculture - LUNAX newsletter. Meant to be published quarterly, only two issues were published, a year apart.

Harvest Moon # 1 Spring '93

Harvest Moon # 2 Spring '94 *

* A List of Subject-Related Articles from Moon Miners' Manifesto is a the bottom of this document

LUNAX was eventually allowed to die. High School Science and Ag-Science teachers generally showed some real enthusiasm for the project. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, for most of them, the LUNAX Experiments were simply a means to arouse student enthusiasm. But it does not matter how many experiments we inspired. The kicker was the all but universal critical failure to report experiment results - the raison d'Ítre of LUNAX.

Our previous attempt to interest individuals in these experiments had likewise generated little response. We hope publishing the experiment guidelines on the web in the near future will yet spark critical interest.

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NEWS & New Developments:

  • 8/21/02 Dave Dietzler of the Moon Society St. Louis chapter writes that he intends to do a 'little experiment' in which he will "give one set of plants light 12 hours a day for two weeks and then refrigerate them for 2 weeks and give another set 24 hours of light a day for 2 weeks then cool them.

  • 8/14/06 David A. Dunlop, who originated the LUNAX experiments and served as Executive Director of LUNAX is looking forward to reactivating this project. In the past 15 years a lot has changed with lighting technology and that makes all the difference as to how experiments should be run, what equipment they should use, and what there goals should be. In addition to the original "Nightspan Dark Hardiness Experiment," which can now be recast using the new technologies, LUNAX is looking at a line of experiments that would point out the best ways to transform lunar regolith into rich agricultural soils. That line of experimentation was always part of the LUNAX plan, but was never activated. Dave reports that he has found new interest in Lunar Agriculture, now that we once again are headed back to the Moon as a National goal.

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LINKS to Relevant Work Elsewhere

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Peter Kokh-  
kokhmmm@aol.com