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

Christopher Davidson
January 17, 2019

The China National Space Agency's Chang'e 4 lander is exploring the mysterious side of our lunar neighbor that faces away from Earth. This week, China announced yet another historic first that has long-lasting implications for manned space exploration in the future: China is growing plants on the Moon. - China will seek to establish an worldwide lunar base one day, possibly using 3D printing technology to build facilities, the Chinese space agency said on January 14, weeks after landing the rover on the moon's far side.

Liu added that rapeseed and potato seeds had also sprouted on the moon and were growing well as of last week.

So basically, the crops will try to form a mini biosphere - an artificial, self-sustaining environment.

China successfully achieved a global first with its trip to the far side of the moon when the Chang'e-4 lunar probe landed in the Von Kármán crater on January 3. That's because temperatures drop to -150 degress Celsius during lunar nights on the moon, and according to Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment, life inside the canister would simply not survive those conditions. While the seed potatoes and rapeseed had also germinated in the sealed container, the cotton seeds were the first to sprout.

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Earlier, several conspiracy theorists have claimed that the Chinese space probe will encounter extraterrestrial aliens in moon's far side. The ability of plants to grow in space is seen as a crucial element for long-term space missions and for establishing human outposts in the solar system like Mars. This represents the first time that humans have deliberately grown living material on the moon, and indeed, any other planetary body.

Worldwide discussions about sending humans to the Moon and Mars have brought many challenges waiting to be solved, and among them is food supply. The yeast was kept to regulate the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the biosphere and the fruit flies were to be the only consumers of these biological products.

It would mean that astronauts could potentially harvest their own food in space, reducing the need to come back down to Earth to resupply.

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