THE MOON — 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.
In making the announcement Tuesday, Chinese researchers released pictures from the probe showing the tiny plant growing in a small pot inside the spacecraft, hundreds of thousands of kilometers away from the Earth.
China became the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon on January 3 when a rover named Yutu 2, or Jade Rabbit 2, touched down in the moon’s largest and oldest impact crater, the South Pole-Aitken Basin.
The mission, titled Chang’e 4, is intended to accomplish a range of tasks, including conducting the first lunar low-frequency radio astronomy experiment and exploring whether there is water at the moon’s poles.
Another purpose of the mission was to test whether plants could grow in a low-gravity environment, a test which appears to have already yielded results.
The system started to water the seedlings after the probe landed and less than a week later a green shoot had already appeared.
While human beings have grown plants in space before, they’ve never attempted to grown one on the moon.
Xie Gengxin, dean of Institute of Advanced Technology at Chongqing University, and the chief designer of the experiment, praised the achievement on the university’s blog.
“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,” Xie said.
Chinese scientists are also attempting to grow seeds from rapeseed, potato and mouse-ear cress, and are trying to hatch fruit fly eggs.
According to the university’s blog, the experiment will show how life develops in low gravity and strong radiation environments. It could even help provide a blueprint for growing resources during a future moon colony established by humans.
China’s ambitions for space and lunar exploration aren’t limited to the current mission. On Monday, China’s space agency announced the Chang’e 5 lunar mission would launch by the end of the year with a goal to bring moon samples back to Earth.
The country’s first mission to Mars is scheduled for around 2020, Wu Yanhua, deputy head of China National Space Administration, said at a news conference in Beijing Monday.