Monday, 19 August, 2019

Cottoning on: Chinese seed sprouts on moon

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This marks the first time that humans have conducted a biological experiment on the moon's surface and the first time that any biological matter has grown on the moon - at least that we know of.

China's Chang'e-4 probe has successfully germinated seeds on the dark side of the Moon in a miniature, artificial biosphere, providing hope for the future of sustainable, long-distance manned space travel.

For the first time anybody is aware of, seeds have sprouted on a celestial body beyond Earth.

The Chang'e 4 is the first mission to land on and explore the Moon's far side, facing away from Earth. The ability to grow plants in space is seen as crucial for long-term space missions and establishing human outposts elsewhere in the solar system, such as Mars.

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

Inside are cotton, arabidopsis - a small, flowering plant of the mustard family - and potato seeds, as well as fruit-fly eggs and yeast. "Learning about these plants' growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base", Liu told the paper.

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Cotton seedlings are growing in a habitat on the moon. He said that the cotton and rapeseed were chosen because they could provide the astronauts with the raw material needed to produce clothing and oil.

"I think there's certainly a great deal of interest in using the Moon as staging post, particularly for flights to Mars, because it's relatively near the Earth", Mr Watson said.

The cotton seed grew in a lattice-like structure inside a canister after the lander touched down on the moon on January 3, say researchers at Chongqing University.

Once the probe landed, the Chinese space agency sent it a signal to begin watering the seeds.

While China has insisted that the probe prevents any organisms on its lunar lander from contaminating the surface, earlier space explorers were not so cautious.

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