Cotton seeds sent to the Moon by China’s Moon lander Chang’e-4 have sprouted in a controlled canister, making it the first lunar germination ever completed, scientists at China’s Chongqing University announced yesterday.
The unmanned Chang’e-4 probe is equipped with a canister which forms a mini biosphere and contains the seeds of cotton, rapeseed, potato and arabidopsis, as well as eggs of the fruit fly and some yeast.
The biological test is being carried out by a team led by scientists from Chongqing University in southwest China, in collaboration with the China National Space Administration.
The cylinder canister, made from special aluminum alloy materials, is 198 mm tall, with a diameter of 173 mm and a weight of 2.6 kg. It also holds water, soil, air, two small cameras, and a heat control system, said Professor Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University and chief designer of the experiment, to Chinese state-owned news agency Xinhua.
The ground control center instructed the probe to water the seeds when Chang’e-4 touched down on the Moon on January 3. Natural light is directed through a tube from the Moon surface into the canister to allow the plants to grow.
Over 170 pictures have been taken by the cameras and sent back to Earth. Photos show that a cotton has started to grow, however, none of the other plants have sprouted.
At the beginning of this year, China managed to become the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon. To get around the challenge of obstructed communications, China put a satellite in lunar orbit to deliver signals to and from the lander.
Growing plants in the space has become a crucial long-term mission as a preliminary part of setting up human outposts on other planets in the solar system.
Previously, produce, such as lettuce, peas and radishes, have been grown on the International Space Station, but this is the first time a seed has sprouted on the moon. America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration is also trying to figure out how to grow plants on the Mars through methods like hydroponics and aeroponics.