April 22, 2019

China's Chang'e 4 Mission Sprouts First Plant On The Moon

17 January 2019, 01:43 | Edward Lowe

China's Chang'e 4 Mission Sprouts First Plant On The Moon

Out Of This World: A Small Cotton Shoot Is Growing On The Moon

Seeds taken to the moon on China's Chang'e-4 mission have begun to sprout, according to the China National Space Administration.

Sprouts from cotton seeds have emerged from a lattice-like structure inside a metal canister inside the lander.

Researcher Xie Gengxin said, 'This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface'.

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Liu Hanlong, who is leading the experiment, said Tuesday that potato seeds and rapeseeds also had sprouted, according to the South China Morning Post.

The system started watering the seeds after the prober landed on moon and less than a week later, green shoot already started appearing. "From a purely technical point of view, the seeds are the first living material to be deliberately grown on another planetary body, and that's a significant milestone". Among its cargo is a miniature lunar biosphere developed by scientists at Chongqing University. The six-wheeled vehicle is carrying a mini biosphere with a live potato, rapeseed and arabidopsis plants, fruit fly eggs, cotton, and some yeast.

Images sent back by the probe show a cotton plant has grown well, but so far none of the other plants had sprouted, the university said. Reports from China indicate that the cotton seeds have germinated while the lander is parked on the far side of the moon. The experiment is contained within an 18 cm, 3 kg (7 lbs.) canister designed by 28 universities in China.

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All plants were chosen because they are small but hardy plants that can grow in a confined, tough environment.

China's successful lunar germination suggests "there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment", Fred Watson, an astronomer-at-large with Australian Astronomical Observatory, told the BBC.

Still, that might well be a giant leap for mankind, since it hints at the possibility of growing food on the moon to feed astronauts on long space missions without requiring them to return to Earth for additional supplies.

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The pioneering landing highlights China's ambitions to rival the US, Russia and Europe in space through manned flights and the planned construction of a permanent space station. Yet at a news conference this week, Wu Yanhua, Deputy Director of CNSA (China National Space Administration) shared exciting news.

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