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About Us

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The Plant the Moon Challenge is for anyone daring enough to explore and stretch the limits of human possibility. We’re piggybacking off of NASA’s new lunar exploration program, Artemis, and giving YOU the chance to help get astronauts back to the moon.

NASA’s Artemis Program is the United States’ new initiative to return to the Moon. And future missions to the Moon will prepare astronauts for manned exploration of Mars! Artemis will explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. However, returning humans to the Moon and planning to go to Mars is challenging in many ways. One of those challenges is how to feed your crew. Using local resources on the Moon could greatly enhance our capabilities to explore our celestial neighborhood.

This begs us to ask the question, can you plant the Moon? Can we plant Mars? Can you grow crops in lunar regolith, a fine grained dusty covering of rocks and minerals spread across the surface of the moon? Can we grow food sustainably on the surface of Mars? What nutrients, fertilizers, or other modifications to the regolith are needed to grow nutrient rich, sustainable food sources for future astronauts?

Understanding how we can use lunar soil to grow crops is one of the next great steps in supporting our return to the Moon! Through the Plant the Moon and Plant Mars Challenge, you can help NASA scientists and the academic community at large learn the best crop conditions to make this happen. Register today to get started!

Programs Of:

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INSTITUTE OF COMPETITION SCIENCES

ICS makes learning an exciting challenge for students of all ages. For ICS, it’s not only about creating a tool for students, educators and innovators. It’s about creating academic heroes, and building the structures and systems upon which they can be recognized and rewarded. We aim to do for educational competitions what ESPN has done for professional sports, and much more. The Plant the Moon and Plant Mars Challenges are new signature competitions from ICS to help engage, inspire, and motivate students to learn through real-world challenge-based programming.

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In Collaboration With:

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THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA’S CLASS EXOLITH LABORATORY

The Plant the Moon and Plant Mars Challenges were developed in collaboration with the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Laboratory. The Exolith lab is a not-for-profit extension of the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science (CLASS), dedicated to regolith simulant production and applied research. CLASS is at the intersection of NASA science and exploration for rocky, atmosphereless bodies. Simulants created at the CLASS Exolith lab are some of the most high-fidelity lunar, Martian, and small-body simulants produced today. Science at CLASS facilitates NASA exploration with new data and insights using their soil simulants.

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THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA’S CLASS EXOLITH LABORATORY

The Plant the Moon and Plant Mars Challenges were developed in collaboration with the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Laboratory. The Exolith lab is a not-for-profit extension of the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science (CLASS), dedicated to regolith simulant production and applied research. CLASS is at the intersection of NASA science and exploration for rocky, atmosphereless bodies. Simulants created at the CLASS Exolith lab are some of the most high-fidelity lunar, Martian, and small-body simulants produced today. Science at CLASS facilitates NASA exploration with new data and insights using their soil simulants.

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NASA SSERVI

Recognizing that science and human exploration are mutually enabling, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to address basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies. As a virtual institute, SSERVI funds investigators at a broad range of domestic institutions, bringing them together along with international partners via virtual technology to enable new scientific efforts.

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THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL FLORIDA’S CLASS EXOLITH LABORATORY

The Plant the Moon and Plant Mars Challenges were developed in collaboration with the University of Central Florida’s CLASS Exolith Laboratory. The Exolith lab is a not-for-profit extension of the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science (CLASS), dedicated to regolith simulant production and applied research. CLASS is at the intersection of NASA science and exploration for rocky, atmosphereless bodies. Simulants created at the CLASS Exolith lab are some of the most high-fidelity lunar, Martian, and small-body simulants produced today. Science at CLASS facilitates NASA exploration with new data and insights using their soil simulants.

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SUPPORTED BY:

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SPACE GRANT CONSORTIUM

The Space Grant Consortium are educational institutions in the United States that comprise a network of fifty-two consortia formed for the purpose of outer space-related research. Each consortium is based in one of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico, and each consists of multiple independent space-grant institutions, with one of the institutions acting as lead.

The Plant the Moon Challenge is currently supported by the Space Grant Consortiums of South Carolina, Florida, Minnesota, Idaho, Virginia, New Mexico, Illinois, California, Michigan, North Dakota, Iowa, and North Carolina.

Science Advisory Board

Chemical Ecology and Astrobiology are the shared themes of research in Dr. Palmer’s lab. Whether it is developing a plan for growing food on a future Mars Colony, or deciphering the chemical signals exchanged between algae and corals, his research lies squarely at the intersection of chemistry and biology. On-going research in Dr. Palmer’s lab evaluates the ability of current Martian regolith simulants to support plant growth, as well as developing new methods to improve their growth in these challenging substrates. In pursuit of that goal, his students are applying both biological as well as chemical approaches to make sustainable plant growth on the Red Planet a reality. His students are as likely to be found at a microscope, in the greenhouse, or in front of a mass spectrometer. Regolith work by Dr. Palmer’s students has received recognition in Science News and the Washington Post.
 
A Florida native, Dr. Palmer grew up in St. Augustine. He received a B.A. from Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL) in Biochemistry, a PhD in Biomolecular Chemistry from Emory University (Atlanta, GA) and then did an NIH postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently the  Chair of the Marine Sciences Program in the Department of Ocean Engineering and Marine Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology. Dr. Palmer is also affiliated with the Aldrin Space Institute and has been an active contributor to workshops on Sustainability in Space.

Associate Professor

Florida Institute of Technology

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Chief Innovation Officer

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Chris McKay

Senior Scientist

NASA Ames Research Center

Joseph Minafra serves as Lead of Innovation and Technical Partnerships for the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) at NASA Ames Research Center. Joe has an extremely diverse background that includes developing technical systems for collaborative research, meteoritic studies, biology, project management, software development including user interface design, scientific illustration, and even a few years as a professional chef. With his varied background, Joe has been responsible for a broad set of technical tasks for the NASA Ames Center Director as well as the Space and BioSciences Divisions. Currently, he oversees technology innovation to enable collaboration and communication between competitively selected science and research teams across not only the United States, but internationally as well. Joe has a long history of integrating government work with commercial enterprises and bringing that message to the public through the education and public outreach sectors.

Lead for Innovation & Technical Partnerships

NASA SSERVI

Laura’s research has focused on the interactions of geology and microbiology and the implications for the geochemistry and transfer of nutrients in the environment. Especially when these interactions occur in extreme environments (including extraterrestrial). Extreme environments represent conditions where the limits of life can be better understood helping to understand development of life on Earth and the potential for life beyond Earth. She completed her B.S. in geology at the University of Kansas and her M.S. degree at the University of Georgia where she studied the interactions of microbial organisms, nitrogen and trace metals in hot springs of Kamchatka Russia.  She has focused her dissertation research on potential applications of microbiology in exploration of Mars, especially for agricultural purposes. She is also experienced in creating Martian regolith simulants and is using these to conduct multiple plant growth studies to help understand some of the limitations of growing extraterrestrial gardens and how microbial organisms may help bridge that gap.

PhD Candidate

University of Georgia

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Chief Scientist, CLASS Exolith Lab

University of Central Florida

Rafael Loureiro

Assistant Professor of Botany

Winston-Salem State University

Ralph Fritsche is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Space Crop Production Project Manager.  He is leading the effort to develop sustainable and reliable fresh food systems in support of long duration space missions beyond low Earth orbit. Mr. Fritsche began his career with NASA in 1989.  He has supported the US Space Shuttle and Space Station Programs in various engineering and operational roles. Mr. Fritsche is also a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.  In addition, he has also earned a dual BS degree in Physics and Space Science from theFlorida Institute of Technology in 1979.

Space Crop Production Manager

NASA Kennedy Space Center

Mahsa Esfandabadi

Aerospace Architectural Engineer

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Dr. Robert Heinse is an Associate Professor of Soil and Environmental Physics in the Soil and Water Systems Department at the University of Idaho.  His research interests revolve around water in the soil environment and the characterization using geophysical methods.  Dr. Heinse also entertains a keen interest in growing plants in space having previously conducted experiments on the vomit comet and being involved with experiments on the international space station.  He is a past director of the interdisciplinary water resources program.  Above all, however, he has a growing appreciation for the complexities of human and ecosystem interactions with the physical world.

Associate Professor of Soil

University of Idaho

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Questions? Contact: katie@competitionsciences.org

Note on International Shipping

The Institute of Competition Sciences and our partners at the CLASS Exolith Lab are excited to offer the Plant the Moon Challenge as a truly international scientific and competitive experience. We will attempt to ship simulants to you around the world, wherever you are. As the competitor and purchaser, you are responsible for any VAT, tariff, duty, taxes, handling fees, customs clearance charges, etc. required by your country for importing goods.

It is our suggestion that you do research beforehand regarding any additional charges and order simulant well in advance (3-4 weeks) of all deadlines to ensure that you can engage in the planned benchmarks of the Plant the Moon Challenge. Thank you for your engagement and understanding.