After conquering dark side of the moon, China targets Mars in 2020

Gwen Vasquez
January 17, 2019

Seeds taken to the moon on China's Chang'e-4 mission have begun to sprout, according to the China National Space Administration. The lander has successfully sprouted small cotton plants as part of a biological experiment.

The Chang'e-4 probe - named after a Chinese moon goddess - made the world's first soft landing on the moon's "dark side" on January 3, a major step in China's ambitions to become a space superpower. This represents the first time that humans have deliberately grown living material on the moon, and indeed, any other planetary body.

"We have given consideration to future survival in space", Liu Hanlong, who heads the experiment, told SCMP.

Seeds have sprouted on the Moon for the first time - in a mini biosphere experiment on China's Chang'e-4 lander. Dubbed a moon surface micro-ecological circle, the 18-centimeter high aluminum alloy cylinder contains silkworm eggs and seeds for potatoes and rockcress (Arabidopsis thaliana, a flowering plant related to mustard and cabbage).

China has sprouted the first seed 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. China's self-contained miniature biosphere includes seeds for plants like cotton, potatoes, rapeseed, and yeast, along with fruit fly eggs.

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Once Chang'e-4 touched down, the ground control center instructed the probe to water the seeds, Xinhua reported. 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.

Xie believes the breakthrough could help scientists to grow more vegetables on the Moon in future missions, eventually paving the way for a long-term base on the Moon to be established. Cotton could be used for clothing, rapeseed for oil, and the potatoes a source of food. A tube directs natural light on the surface of the moon into the canister to allow the plants to grow.

It means there could be a chance that, at some point in the future, astronauts could grow their own food in space - although this would be a while off yet!

To the Australian Astronomical Association astronomer-at-large, Fred Watson, the development was "good news", reports the BBC. The probe has taken 170 pictures.

Some space and global affairs analysts estimated that China's forays into lunar exploration could inspire a new space race of sorts.

"China will carry out its first-ever exploration mission to Mars around 2020", he said.

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