China has successfully sprouted the first-ever seed on the moon, the China National Space Administration reported on Tuesday, after a cotton seed successfully germinated inside a sealed chamber. The Chang’e 4 lander hosting the chamber made history earlier this month when it became the first ever craft to land on the far side of the moon, sparking new potential for scientific discovery about the moon’s makeup and origins.
The experiment is aimed at better understanding how plant life grows in an environment with just 17 percent the gravity of the Earth, advancing steps toward human settlements in space that go beyond the International Space Station. The 6.6-pound aluminum chamber maintains a consistent temperature of around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Alongside the cotton seeds, the chamber also stored yeast, fruit fly eggs, potato, rapeseed and Arabidopsis, a leafy plant often used in research. The rapeseed and potato seeds sprouted soon after the cotton seeds. It’s designed to potentially form a complete ecosystem, as the plants grow and provide food for the fruit flies and the yeast processes the flies’ waste to help create more food.
The success of the experiment could enable astronauts to grow cotton for clothes, rapeseed for oil and potatoes for food. Xie Gengxin, Ph.D., the researcher that designed the experiment, told South China Moring Post that “we have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base.”
The probe, which launched on December 7 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, successfully landed by the South Pole-Aitken crater on January 3. The administration also hopes that the mission will reveal more about the makeup of this mysterious crater, which measures 1,500 miles wide and eight miles deep. Because the rover undertaking these tasks will be shielded from the Earth, the agency is also hopeful that it will provide an opportunity to study celestial objects without interference from Earth-based radio waves.
From here, China plans to send a Chang’e-5 mission by the end of the year to collect samples. The space agency then plans to send a probe to Mars as early as next year. China’s space efforts are advancing at breakneck speed, with a team of experts predicting last month that the country will be next to send a human to the moon.
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