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

Theresa Obrien
January 19, 2019

After making the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon, China's Chang'e-4 mission pioneered the first mini biosphere experiment on the moon.

Xie Gengxin, dean of Institute of Advanced Technology at Chongqing University and the chief designer of the experiment, said it was a world first.

Plants have been grown on the International Space Station before but never on the Moon.

The successful launch of Chang E-4 is considered to be a long jump in China towards astronomical observation and has given considerable strength to its ambitions towards becoming a space superpower.

The country's first mission to Mars is scheduled for around 2020, Wu Yanhua, deputy head of China National Space Administration, said at a news conference in Beijing Monday.

In a development that will likely have huge implications for the future of space travel, China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander successfully managed to plant and sprout cotton seeds on the Moon. With the ability to grow edible plants, astronauts could grow and harvest their own food, enabling long-term habitation. Some have raised the question of whether the experiment risks "contaminating" the Moon, but scientists generally think this is of little concern. The Chang'e-4 lunar probe is now in the Von Carmer crater in the moon's southern hemisphere, and in the night time, the probe will be sent to sleep.

Chang'e 5 will lay the groundwork for further probes to be sent to the moon's south pole and possibly to return samples from the far side of the moon, Wu said.

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Late on January 3, China's newest lunar rover - nicknamed the Jade Rabbit - rolled off its lunar lander and onto the far side of the moon. All countries are welcome to participate in China's follow-up lunar exploration and deep space exploration projects, he said.

However, plants have successfully been grown on the worldwide Space Station (ISS).

Scientists are trying to create a mini-ecosystem using potato seeds and silkworm eggs also inside the canister.

Inside are cotton, arabidopsis - a small, flowering plant of the mustard family - and potato seeds, as well as fruit-fly eggs and yeast.

Xinhua also posted a video showing a simulated seedling growth test on Earth, leading to some questions about the earlier images and whether they came from the moon experiment or its Earth counterpart.

"We had no such experience (growing plants on the moon) before".

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