Published: Tue, January 15, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

China's Moon mission sees first seeds sprout

China's Moon mission sees first seeds sprout

The seeds only began growing once ground control singled to the probe to begin hydrating them and the cotton seed became the first-ever lunar sprout (plants have been grown on board the ISS, of course).

The breakthrough is a massive leap towards sustainable deep space colonization.

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.

The idea is that the plants produce oxygen and food for the fruit flies. A tube directed natural light on the surface of the Moon into the canister to allow the plants to grow. Liu Hanlong, chief of the first biological growth experiments on the moon, said rapeseed and potato seeds have also sprouted, but cotton was first.

The six organisms were chosen because they act as producers, consumers, and decomposers. The ability to grow food and other resources in space could help to decrease the amount of cargo astronauts need to bring with them.

Riding on its success of landing a rover on the far side of the Moon earlier in January, China's space agency is planning to launch another mission to the Moon by the end of 2019 and a mission to Mars as early as 2020, the media reported. China shared video of the Chang'e 4 landing on the moon this week.

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The plans underscore China's ambitions in space at a time when the United States is curtailing NASA's budget and increasingly handing over space exploration to commercial adventurers, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

According to Wu, the Chang'e 6 mission will be created to bring samples back from the south pole of the moon and this will be followed by probes that will conduct comprehensive surveys of the area.

Officials at the briefing declined to give specific figures on the costs of the space program.

"Experts are still discussing and verifying the feasibility of subsequent projects, but it's confirmed that there will be another three missions after Chang'e 5", said Wu.

Permanently lit regions around the south pole are considered prime locations for a lunar base, particularly because permanently shadowed craters nearby are judged likely to hold the reserves of frozen water needed for crewed operations.

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