Back in the day, people thought the dark patches on the moon were bodies of water, which is why they’re called maria: pronounced mahr-ee-a, not like the name. ‘Maria’ is Latin for ‘seas.’ If there were big bodies of water on the moon, it’d be a lot easier to grow things there.
It’s not just an issue of the lack of carbon dioxide, which plants need in order to perform photosynthesis and sustain themselves. Earth’s atmosphere blocks a lot–a lot–of electromagnetic radiation; in fact, it takes out almost everything except a narrow window around the visible range of light, called the optical window, and another window in the radio range whose name you can probably guess. The atmosphere also blocks a lot of space debris from hitting Earth, since the debris generally burns up the atmosphere and can show up as a shooting star, or meteor. Most of the time, anyway; sometimes pieces of debris run into people’s stuff or largely obliterate the dinosaurs. The moon, lacking an atmospheric shield, would be more vulnerable to these impacts.
Given these problems, it will be tricky to grow food on the moon, especially on its surface.
Sure, you run into the where-does-the-sunlight-come-from problem again, but on the other hand, a plant can actually live there. The CEAC prototype, according to the press release, takes up eighteen feet of tunnel space but can be collapsed to just 4 feet for transport.
I hope you all had a mental image of a slinky just now.
The manufacturing company claims 10 minutes for setup and 30 days until vegetables, and when working:
The lunar greenhouse contains approximately 220 pounds of wet plant material that can provide 53 quarts of potable water and about three-quarters of a pound of oxygen during a 24-hour period, while consuming about 100 kilowatts of electricity and a pound of carbon dioxide.
It would also be growing the vegetables hydroponically, aka in water.
CEAC also designed a unit which is used to grow vegetables at the South Pole, so they have some experience with making greenery grow in inhospitable places. They’re applying for additional funding in hopes of carrying the experiment on to Phrase II.
One thing it’ll be interesting to see in the future is how the light-usage issue in space agriculture is handled. Plants are adapted to use the light available on Earth for photosynthesis, which in space wouldn’t necessarily be available- either because the plants themselves are literally shielded from the light, or because the light isn’t bright enough even if it is there. So will it be easier to engineer efficient lights to maintain the plants, or to engineer the plants to take advantage of efficient lights?