Moon sprouts: one small step for cotton, one giant step for China

18 January, 2019, 09:28 | Author: Tara Reeves
  • The image from the China National Space Administration shows the first image of the moon's far side taken by China's Chang'e-4 probe

China's Chang'e 4 craft lunar lander arrived January 3, 2019 on the far side of the Moon, and part of its cargo included an aluminum alloy canister equipped with materials necessary for not only plant growth, but a self-sustaining biological environment lead by Chongqing University.

Images sent back by the probe show a cotton sprout has grown well, but so far none of the other plants has taken, the university said.

The system started watering the seeds after the prober landed on moon and less than a week later, green shoot already started appearing.

However, cultivating the crops won't be easy as temperatures on the moon's surface can soar to 100 degrees Celsius (202 degrees Fahrenheit) in the day and drop to minus 100 degrees at night.

Another point of interest is that Chinese scientists managed to design containers that were able to transport natural Earth light in an effort to "aid photosynthesis". They also added yeast, fruit fly eggs and the seeds of cotton, rapeseed, potato and rock cress-a flowering plant in the mustard family.

The overarching implications of this successful experiment are huge.

Harvesting food in space, ideally using locally extracted water, would mean astronauts could survive for far longer without returned to Earth for supplies.

As the BBC reports, one of the experiments China sent to the moon is a biosphere, which consists of a sealed 18-by-16cm container offering an Earth-like environment.

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CNSA hopes that this experiment will be useful for exploring future long-term missions to space.

Seeds brought to the Moon aboard the Chang'e 4 lander include cotton, rapeseed, potato and arabidopsis (also known as rockcress).

Before this study, plants had been successfully grown on the International Space Station by astronauts like lettuce, sunflowers and zinnia flowers.

Dr Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the National Space Administration and deputy commander of lunar exploration projects, said in a press conference: "Chang'e-5 will return mission sampling from the surface of the moon around the end of this year".

The Chang'e 4 is also the first vehicle to land on the far-side of the moon.

"Although it is a biological payload, it laid a foundation and technological support for our next step, that is, to build a lunar base for living", said Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the biological experiment payload, Chang'e-4 lunar mission.

The capsule used to grow plants on the Moon.

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