Can plants grow on the moon? Well, no. At least, not yet. NASA hopes to change that in 2015, when it sends a bunch of seeds to the surface of the moon to see if they can germinate and grow in lunar gravity and radiation. This, NASA said in its press release, is the "first step" in a possible attempt to colonize and conquer that tide-causing space rock once and for all.
Before you start imagining astronauts wearing space-overalls and carrying space-hoes, it should be said that the seeds won't be planted directly into the moon's surface. They'll be in a "sealed growth chamber" with enough air and water to support 5-10 days of growth.
Here's the science-y stuff:
Germination is the first step in plant growth and thus forms the focus of this first experiment. We will also look for phototropism and circumnutation. The basic data from the experiment would be the growth rate, expressed as leaf area, over time. This would be extracted from images of the plant growth area. In addition image data would be collected to investigate both phototropism (plant motion in response to changes in position of the light source) and circumnutation (plant circular motion). The growth and movement of the plants on the Moon would be compared to similar data from Earth controls in identical growth units.
Cool. The three lucky plants that will (possibly) grow on the moon are basil (yum), turnips (gross) and a flower in the Arabidopsis family (probably the Arabidopsis thaliana, a "model higher plant").
Less cool? NASA's insistence on promoting Google throughout the announcement. Since our government insists on cutting NASA's budget every year, the space plants will have to "hitchhike" on Google Lunar XPRIZE contest participants Moon Express when they launch, which is expected to be in "late 2015."
Even less cool than that? The Daily Mail's headline about it: