Humans have been able to grow plants in the space—including zinnias, sunflowers and leafy greens on the International Space Station—but never on the Moon. Now China’s trying to see if it can keep plants alive there, as part of its research efforts toward one day having a lunar base.
Cotton seeds that traveled to the Moon with China’s spacecraft Chang’e-4 have sprouted, according to CGTN, the global arm of state broadcaster CCTV. The news came about two weeks after the lander and rover touched down on the Moon’s far side to conduct a series of experiments including testing the sustainability of plant life, studying the celestial body’s composition and history, and looking for clues to the universe’s origins.
#BREAKING The latest released experimental picture shows that cotton seeds carried on the Chang’e-4 probe have sprouted, marking the first biological experiment on the lunar surface #ChangE4pic.twitter.com/6bMXH3dVT0
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) January 15, 2019
For the “mini lunar biosphere” experiment, southwestern China-based Chongqing University sent along a 7-inch-tall bucket-like tin with air, water, and soil that contains cotton, potato, and arabidopsis seeds—the latter is a plant in the mustard family—as well as fruit fly eggs and yeast. The team was originally planning to send silkworm cocoons at the time the project was revealed to the public in April but later opted for fruit flies instead, state media Guancha reported in December (link in Chinese). It’s unclear why they swapped, but it could be that fruit fly is a better fit for a demanding growing environment.
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