China's Moon mission sees first seeds sprout

15 January, 2019, 22:01 | Author: Amos Gonzales
  • Eugene Garcia  EPA FILE

"This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface", said Xie Gengxin, who led the design of the experiment.

Inside are cotton, potato, and arabidopsis seeds - a plant of the mustard family - as well as fruit fly eggs and yeast.

Before China finished packing up its Chang'e 4 lunar lander to be blasted off on a never-before-accomplished journey to the far side of the moon, scientists slipped in a small tank holding plant seeds.

The first ever plants have sprouted on the moon, after China's Chang'e-4 mission carried cotton seeds to the "dark side", facing away from Earth.

In the biosphere, the plants are shielded from harmful radiation, and the temperature is maintained artificially, since the moon lacks a sufficient atmosphere to block radiation from space or to regulate heat.

The Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, The People's Daily hailed the achievement as "humankind's first biological experiment on the moon".

The lunar mini biosphere experiment on the Chang'e-4 lander is created to test photosynthesis and respiration - processes in living organisms that result in the production of energy.

On Tuesday, Chinese state media said the cotton seeds had now grown buds.

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They only began growing once ground control centre sent a command to the probe to water the seeds.

"With this circle, a mini biosphere comprising producers, consumers and decomposers is formed", they said.

"In addition, the yeast can decompose the waste of plants and drosophila melanogaster and grow, and can also serve as food of drosophila melanogaster".

"In the past, we were always rushing to catch up to the advanced global standards" in space, said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China's lunar exploration project.

He said cotton could eventually be used for clothing while the potatoes could be a food source for astronauts and the rapeseed for oil.

China is to continue lunar exploration with its Chang'e-5 sample return in late 2019 and follow up with missions to the Moon's South Pole, namely Chang'e-6, 7 and 8, in the early 2020s.

China, in turn, shared the time and coordinates of Chang'e 4′s scheduled landing, Wu told reporters during a briefing on the lunar mission.

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