Cotton seeds carried by Chinese lunar lander sprouts on moon

Cotton seeds carried by Chinese lunar lander sprouts on moon

Cotton seeds contained in a mini biosphere on the Chang'e-4 lander on the far side of the Moon have sprouted, newly released images from the experiment show.

The ability to grow plants on the Moon will be integral for long-term space missions, like a trip to Mars which would take about two-and-a-half years.

The Chang'e 4 lander is the first to visit the far side of our lunar neighbor, sometimes called "the dark side of the moon".

"This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface", said Xie Gengxin, who led the design of the experiment, on Tuesday.

The space agency's deputy director, Wu Yanhua, said NASA shared information about its lunar orbiter satellite in hopes of monitoring the landing of the Chang'e 4 spacecraft, which made China the first country to land on the far side of the moon earlier this month.

Such a base would likely rely on seeds being grown on the moon by astronauts, reducing the need for costly resupplies. Inside you'll find soil, yeast, fruit fly and silkworm eggs, as well as cotton, potato, tomato, and (flowering) thale cress seeds. So far, the cotton seeds are the only ones to sprout.

"From the images sent back from Chang'e 4, we can see the area surrounding the probe is dotted with craters of different sizes, and it's very hard for the rover to drive in the region", explained Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Chang'e 4 probe, according to Xinhua.

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Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory's astronomer-at-large was also encouraged by the progress.

He said: "We have given consideration to future survival in space".

"It suggests that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment".

"I think there's certainly a great deal of interest in using the moon as a staging post, particularly for flights to Mars, because it's relatively near the Earth". China has big ambitions of becoming a comparable top-tier space power with plans to send a crewed mission to the moon (the last one came in 1972) and to establish a research base there someday.

On Friday, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) released several images taken by the probe including panoramic images of the landing site as well as video of the vehicles touching down.

The biosphere also contains a tiny camera, and as the tweet above shows, it beamed back an image of the seeds sprouting and growing buds. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of, its sponsors or advertisers.