Florida Space Grant Consortium Receives NASA Funding for NASA Space Grant Plant the Moon Challenge Project

Press Release for NASA Space Grant Plant the Moon Challenge Awards

Contact:  Dr. Jaydeep Mukherjee, Director, Florida Space Grant   Consortium 321-747-8538; jaydeep.mukherjee@ucf.edu                        

For Release:  September 9, 2022                

NASA has announced just over a one-million-dollar award to the Virginia Space Grant Consortium for the NASA Space Grant Plant the Moon Challenge project (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-awards-4-million-through-new-space-grant-kids-opportunity/). The Florida Space Grant Consortium is one of the funded project partners.  The proposal is one of four awards made nationally through the NASA Space Grant KIDS funding opportunity which focuses on providing experiences for students to learn about NASA’s Artemis mission to return human explorers to the Moon and to Mars. Understanding how we can use lunar soils to grow crops for future human missions is one of the next great steps in supporting a return by humans to the Moon.

The Challenge will significantly extend the reach of the Institute of Competition Science’s current international Plant the Moon Challenge in a six-state region that includes partnerships with the North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Florida, and Puerto Rico Space Grant programs. Virginia Space Grant Consortium is serving as project lead.

Plant the Moon Challenge (PTMC), developed by the Institute of Competition Sciences, is a teacher-led student global science experiment, learning activity and inspirational project-based learning challenge to see who can grow the best crops using lunar regolith simulant. Participating educators receive a PTMC Activity Kit for each team of about ten students including lunar regolith simulant, a Project Guide, and a pH meter. Student groups work together to design their plant growth experiments using the simulant. Experiment variables may include the plant growth setup structure, amount of water used, and nutrients added to the regolith simulant. Teacher-advised teams use the Project Guide to define their plant growth experiments. The grow period is eight weeks. For two weeks before the grow period, throughout the grow period, and for two weeks after the grow period, teams are engaged in weekly activities and virtual events that supplement their hands-on project activities with STEM learning activities connecting them with NASA Artemis-related content.

Piloted in 2021 and 2022, the Challenge has engaged over 4,000 students in its first two years. Through this grant, at least 13,080 additional students from targeted underrepresented and underserved populations and 510 formal and informal educators who instruct these students will be engaged with this authentic, Artemis-related, STEM learning experience in the three-year project period.

Florida has been in close partnership with the organizers of PTMC from program inception in spring 2021 and has supported 62 teams comprised of 681 K-12 students. In addition, the Exolith Lab (manufacturer of the lunar and Martian simulant) is managed by the University of Central Florida (UCF), the lead institution for FSGC. This is a quote from Melissa Sleeper, the lead teacher for the team from Storm Grove Middle school that won the most innovative award last year. “The Plant the Moon challenge gave my students valuable experience in conducting authentic scientific research. Winning the award for Best in Show – Innovation, was the icing on the cake. The girls that participated hope to continue their research and talk about one day really planting their crops on the Moon! The entire experience had them rethinking their career goals. They now envision themselves as future scientists and researchers on the Moon”. 

FSGC and program partners are excited to work with the Institute of Competition Sciences to allow more students and educators to participate while adding a materials stipend for participating teachers, expanding professional development for educators, enhancing speakers and activities for participants, and providing experiential prizes in each state and at the regional level. The project will be externally evaluated.

The project’s Plant the Moon Challenges will be offered in the spring semesters of 2023, 2024, and 2025. Many participants for spring 2023 have already been identified including, schools, school systems, and informal organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, 4H, and Future Farmers of America. The project has broad appeal to space science, biology, botany, earth science, and agricultural learning among other disciplines. If you would like to learn more, contact:  jaydeep.mukherjee@ucf.edu.

About FSGC: The Florida Space Grant Consortium was formed in 1989, under a NASA-implemented program designed to promote aerospace education. The Consortium is comprised of seventeen public and private Florida Universities and colleges led by the University of Central Florida. The Consortium includes all of Florida’s community colleges, as well as the Astronaut Memorial Foundation, Space Florida, Kennedy Space Center, and Orlando Science Center. FSGC supports the expansion and diversification of Florida’s space industry. It does so by providing grants, scholarships, and fellowships to students and educators from Florida’s public and private institutes of higher education. The Consortium is administered by the University of Central Florida via the Florida Space Institute. (www.floridaspacegrant.org)



Photo 1 Caption: Students from Storm Grove Middle School in Florida win most innovative project competing in the NASA Plant the Moon Challenge in the Fall of 2021.


Photo 2 Caption:  This Plant the Moon Challenge team grew radishes in lunar highland simulant in their high school science lab and varied the light source lumens and nutrient amendments in their experimental design.


Photo 3 Caption:  The experimental design for this high school Plant the Moon Challenge team including two separate trials conducted within the 8-week grow period to test the optimal lighting and soil amendment conditions for their radish crops grown in lunar highland regolith simulant.