China sprouts cotton plants on the moon

Muriel Hammond
January 16, 2019

Astronauts onboard the International Space Station regularly tend plants to study how growth changes in microgravity (and to diversify astronaut diets in space), and plants and seeds have orbited Earth on and off throughout spaceflight history.

In 2011, the US Congress passed a bill restricting cooperation between China and the US in space exploration.

'From the panorama, we can see the probe is surrounded by lots of small craters, which was really thrilling, ' said Li Chunlai, deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China and commander-in-chief of the ground application system of Chang'e-4.

As part of a bid to investigate the Moon's potential to support future space travellers, cotton seeds - alongside potato seeds, rapeseed, yeast and fruit fly eggs - were placed in a sealed canister on board the lander to protect them from temperature extremes and radiation.

This seed experiment was created to test how space impacts photosynthesis and respiration.

During the 20-day journey from Earth to the far side of the moon, the cotton seeds and other plants were made dormant by "biological technology".

The Chang'e-4 lunar probe landed on 3 January and transmitted the first-ever "close range" image of the "dark" side of the moon.


Skygazers are set to be treated to a total lunar eclipse this weekend, on top of a "super blood wolf moon".

They began growing when the control centre back on Earth sent a command to the probe telling it to water the seeds.

Self-sustaining habitable environments for off-planet travel have been part of scientific research for decades, including a famous large-scale experiment conducted nearly 30 years ago called Biosphere 2 (Earth is Biosphere 1). The previous version erroneously stated the second image with the large sprout as being the Moon-based experiment.

Chinese scientists said they used these plants and silkworms because the plants will provide the silkworms with oxygen, while the silkworms will give them carbon dioxide and nutrients through their waste, The Telegraph has learned. We could probably make some nice sweaters from moon-grown cotton.

While it's certainly been determined that human interaction will be a big hurdle for long-term space faring missions, the engineering side of sustainable food production off-Earth is still facing challenges of its own and will continue to need development efforts.

Greenery is coming for outer space: China's Chang'e 4 mission seeds have become the first plants to sprout on the moon's surface.

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