China’s space agency has announced a major first for space exploration with confirmation that its impressive lander has sprouted a cotton plant on the moon.
If humankind is to ever achieve a stable moon colony, it will need to grow its own food, despite the barren, cold and immensely challenging lunar surface. So, it marks an important moment in space exploration history that the first crop has successfully sprouted on the moon.
According to AFP (via Phys.org), the Advanced Technology Research Institute at Chongqing University has released a series of photos showing a green sprout emerging from a lattice-like structure found inside the Chang’e-4 lander, which touched down earlier this month on the far side of the moon.
The lunar biosphere experiment includes an 18cm bucket-like container that holds air, water and soil. Within these ingredients for plant growth are a series of seeds including cotton, potato, fruit fly eggs, yeast and a mustard-like planet called arabidopsis.
The images sent back by the university that orchestrated the experiment said the plant seen sprouting is the cotton seed, but so far none of the other crops have managed to follow suit.
Prof Xie Gengxin, the lead designer of the experiment, proclaimed: “This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface.”
The mission to land a craft on the surface of the far side of the moon was a massive achievement in itself, setting off a string of firsts to be achieved by any spacefaring nation so far. Aside from the achievement of the landing itself, the Chang’e-4 lander has since released its small Yutu-2 rover – referred to as the Jade Rabbit – which will perform a series of experiments in the little-explored Von Kármán crater.
The Chinese National Space Administration has promised that another four lunar missions are in the works, the next being a probe that will land on the moon and return samples to Earth.
Eventually, along with the European Space Agency, China hopes to establish a crewed lunar research base built using 3D printing.