China's Lunar Probe Sees First Cotton-seed Sprout

Michele Stevens
January 19, 2019

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.

Xie Gengxin, dean of Institute of Advanced Technology at Chongqing University and the chief designer of the experiment, said it was a world first.

Seeds taken to the moon on China's Chang'e-4 mission have begun to sprout, according to the China National Space Administration.

Images sent by the probe showed that a cotton sprout had started to grow, though no other plants were found growing.

"We have given consideration to future survival in space", Prof.

Cotton seeds carried to the moon by a Chinese probe have sprouted, marking what could be the first plant to ever grow there, according to Chinese government images.

The China National Space Administration also is planning its first mission to Mars in 2020.


The Chang'e-4 mission has also brought along fruit flies to form a "lunar mini biosphere", helping scientists understand how animals and crops interact in different environments.

Testing new technologies like 3D printing or the use of moon soil in construction for future missions could lay the groundwork for building on the moon's surface, he said.

The agency said four more lunar missions are planned, confirming the launch of Chang'e 5 by the end of the year, which will be the first probe to return samples of the moon to Earth since the 1970s.

China's Chang'e 4 craft lunar lander arrived January 3, 2019 on the far side of the Moon, and part of its cargo included an aluminum alloy canister equipped with materials necessary for not only plant growth, but a self-sustaining biological environment lead by Chongqing University. At least two of them will land on the moon's south pole and conduct research, he said.

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

The state-run China Daily said that was the first such form of cooperation since the 2011 USA law was enacted. Tests on Earth show that viable, self-sustaining biospheres are exceptionally hard to build and maintain.

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.

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