BLOOMINGTON — Alex Darragh is one step closer to enabling life on the moon.

Darragh, a University of Illinois freshman from Bloomington, and his U of I freshman teammate Matt Steinlauf of Tokyo designed a lunar greenhouse to grow produce in moon soil.

Their team, titled Regolith Revolution, was the only U.S. group given the chance to send a project to the moon through the India-based Lab2Moon competition.

Lab2Moon is hosted by Team Indus, an aerospace research organization in India. Team Indus is planning a robotic voyage to the moon in December and the team has room on its lunar lander for college students to send a life-enabling project the size of a pop can.

Once placed on the moon’s surface, the Regolith Revolution greenhouse would drill an Archimedes' screw into the moon, lifting lunar soil into the device and dropping it into rotating cups. After the screw retracts, the hole closes and the device pressurizes and heats.

Tubes in the top of the canister would deposit seeds, water and fertilizer into each cup in the hope that plants would sprout.

The U of I team was successful in their attempts to grow produce in simulated lunar soil in a lab.

Darragh and Steinlauf recently returned from an all-inclusive trip to Bangalore, India, where they presented their lunar greenhouse project to Team Indus.

They were one of 25 teams selected from 3,000 applicants to travel to India.

“At first, we thought there would only be one team chosen to fly to the moon. Then (Team Indus) announced two winners were selected for the trip," said Darragh, an agriculture and biological engineering major.

"After that, they announced six additional teams could join if they find sponsorships to pay $750,000 to get on the ship.” 

Regolith Revolution is one of the six teams who can join the mission if they raise $750,000 by mid-April.

“We’re hoping to find a corporation to sponsor our project, like Monsanto. We’re also looking to Kickstarter for some funding through crowd sourcing,” said Darragh.

Despite the hefty price tag, Darragh said he and Steinlauf are “ecstatic” about the opportunity.

“It’s a whole new challenge to find funding now. It’s a challenge we didn’t expect, but it’s been a great experience overall,” said Darragh.

Whether or not the team is able to send their project to the moon, Darragh said the experimentation will continue with help from U of I professors and other engineering and agriculture students.

Donations to send Regolith Revolution to the moon can be made by searching "Regolith Revolution" on www.kickstarter.com. If not enough funds are raised by the deadline, the money will return to the donors.

To follow Regolith Revolution’s journey, visit www.regolithrevolution.com.

Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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