Chang’e-4: Plant Seeds Sprout On The Moon For The First Time In History

This is the first botanical experiment to ever be conducted on the moon.

3D illustration of Earth behind the far side of the moon.
Dotted Yeti / Shutterstock

This is the first botanical experiment to ever be conducted on the moon.

China is growing plants on the moon. Nearly two weeks after becoming the first nation to ever land a spacecraft on the lunar far side, China has once again made history by conducting the first successful botanical experiment on the moon.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, China’s 2,600-pound Chang’e-4 lander that touched down inside Von Karman Crater on January 2 was carrying a 6-pound sealed biosphere containing plant seeds and silkworm eggs. These plant seeds, which belong to variety of species, have now germinated, becoming the first seeds to sprout on the surface of the moon.

The news was announced today by China’s state-run press agency Xinhua, which unveiled that the first plant to germinate in the lunar environment was a cotton bud.

All in all, the Chinese Change’4 probe has flown four different types of plant seeds to the moon, including cotton, potato, rape (Brassica napus), and rock cress (Arabidopsis) — a flowering plant genetically related to mustard and cabbage. In addition, the spacecraft has ferried yeast and fruit fly eggs to the lunar far side.

According to a separate report from Xinhua, the mini-biosphere is essentially an 8-inch-tall, 7-inch-wide cylinder canister made from special aluminum alloy materials. The small enclosure holds water, soil, air, and a heat control system built to keep the interior at around 25 degrees Celsius, as well as two small cameras that track the progress of the experiment.

More Than 170 Photos

On January 12, the cameras recorded images of a cotton bud sprouting inside the small lunar biosphere. So far, this is the only plant to have grown on the surface of the moon.

The two cameras have sent back more than 170 photos of the lifeforms inhabiting the lunar biosphere, which were relayed to Earth via the Chinese Queqiao satellite.

First Biology Experiment On The Moon

The Chang’e-4 biology experiment — the first one to ever be attempted on the surface of the moon — was designed by 28 Chinese universities and is overseen by a team of scientists from Chongqing University in southwest China. The university has released a statement on the amazing success of this pioneering endeavor, per CNN.

“This (mission) has achieved the first biological experiment on the moon of human history, to sprout the first bud on the desolate moon. And with time moving on, it’ll be the first plant with green leaves on the moon,” said Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment and dean of the Institute of Advanced Technology at Chongqing University.

The purpose of this experiment is to learn how germination, growth, and silk production are affected by the moon’s reduced gravity, which sits at just 17 percent of Earth’s gravity. The idea is that, once the plants and Arabidopsis flowers are growing, they will provide the necessary amount of oxygen for the silkworms to survive. These, in turn, will provide the plants with carbon dioxide for photosynthesis.

Meanwhile, “yeast could play a role in regulating carbon dioxide and oxygen in the mini-biosphere,” states Xinhua, noting that “the fruit fly would be the consumer of the photosynthesis process.” This would turn the biosphere into a completely self-sustaining environment, in which life could thrive on the lunar surface.

Dormant Until Touchdown

Launched into space on December 7, 2018, the seeds and eggs were kept in a dormant state with the help of “biological technology” all throughout their 20-day journey to the moon, as well as several weeks prior to liftoff, detailed the Chinese media outlet. It was only after the Chang’e-4 lander touched down on the lunar far side that the seeds began to grow, once mission engineers commanded the probe to water the plants and direct natural light toward the biosphere with the help of a tube.

This incredible achievement could one day enable astronauts to grow crops on the moon and greatly facilitate longterm space missions, notes the BBC. This would allow explorers to potentially harvest their own food in space and reduce the need to fly back to Earth on a regular basis to restock their supplies.

“We have given consideration to future survival in space,” Xie told the South China Morning Post.

“Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base.”