Moon Plants: Another historic first by China’s Lunar Lander

Scientists from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) has confirmed that the seedlings taken to the far side of the moon with Chang’e 4 lunar lander have started sprouting. Or to put it another way: this is the first time something has been grown on an astronomical body outside of the Earth! Now we have “moon plants”!

On January 3, 2019, a space feat no nation or space agency (including NASA) has accomplished until now, China’s lunar lander and rover Chang’e 4 achieved the first soft-landing on the far side of the Moon

One of the scientific payloads carried by Chang’e 4 was the “Lunar Micro Ecosystem”, a 3 kg (6.6 lb) sealed “biosphere” cylinder 18 cm (7.1 in) long and 16 cm (6.3 in) in diameter. This tiny ecosystem was containing plant seeds and insect eggs to test whether plants and insects could hatch and grow together in synergy under the low lunar gravity, which is about 16.6% that on Earth’s surface (1/6 of the Earth’s gravity).

First moon plants
First in human history: A cotton seed brought to the moon by China’s Chang’e 4 probe has sprouted, the latest test photo has shown, marking the completion of humankind’s first biological experiment on the moon. The photograph was taken January 7, 2019. Source: People’s Daily, China on Twitter

The experiment includes six types of organisms: cottonseed, potato, rapeseed, Arabidopsis thaliana (a flowering plant), as well as yeast and fruit fly eggs. Environmental systems keep the container hospitable and Earth-like, except for the low lunar gravity.

The first “moon plants”

Of all the plant seeds, cotton, rapeseed and potato seeds had sprouted, becoming the first-ever “moon plants”. This is the first time something has been grown on an astronomical body outside of the Earth (previously, plants grown in space at the Vegetable Production System aboard the International Space Station).

If the fly eggs hatch, the larvae would produce carbon dioxide, while the germinated plants would release oxygen through photosynthesis.

The biological experiment is important for the development of biological life support systems for long-duration missions in space stations or space habitats in the future.

A miniature camera is currently photographing the successful germination and growth. The cotton shoots were visible in an image taken by a camera inside the lander, along with the sprouts rapeseed and potatoes.

Chang’e-4 biological experiment – the first cotton sprout on the far side of the Moon

A relatively new player in the space race, China is really ambitious. A lunar base is in their plans. They also hope to send an unmanned spacecraft to Mars in 2020 with the eventual goal of sending manned missions to the red planet in the coming decades.

Update: January 16

The experiment didn’t last long. The same day, China’s state-run Xinhua News declared that it’s already ended – now the sprouted plants are dead.

Sources

  • “Giant leaf for mankind? China germinates first seed on the moon – A small cotton shoot is growing onboard Chang’e 4 lunar lander, scientists confirm” on The Guardian
  • “Cotton Seed Sprouts on the Moon’s Far Side in Historic First by China’s Chang’e 4″ on Space.com
  • “China sprouts plants on the moon for the first time ever” on CNBC website
  • “China’s Moon mission sees first seeds sprout” on BBC news
  • Chang’e 4 on Wikipedia

M. Özgür Nevres

I am a software developer, a former road racing cyclist, and a science enthusiast. Also an animal lover! I write about the planet Earth and science on this website, ourplnt.com. You can check out my social media profiles by clicking on their icons.

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