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Cotton seeds carried by Chinese lunar lander Chang’e 4 germinate on the far side of the moon. Photo: Chongqing University

Chinese lunar lander’s cotton seeds spring to life on far side of the moon

  • Chang’e 4’s test load of six organisms beginning to flourish, experiment chiefs say
  • Cotton, rapeseed and potato chosen as foundation for human settlement

Cotton seeds carried by China’s Chang’e 4 lunar lander have germinated on the far side of the moon, becoming the first plant shoots to grow there in what mission chiefs said was laying the foundation for a base on Earth’s only natural satellite.

A photo released on Tuesday by the China National Space Administration showed cotton shoots were growing well along with other germinated plants.

When Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon on January 3, its cargo included an airtight container that carried bioscience test loads, including one called a “moon surface micro-ecological circle”.

Professor Liu Hanlong, head of the experiment, announced on Tuesday that the cotton seeds were the first to sprout, but the team did not give an exact time for that event.

Liu said that in addition to cotton, rapeseed and potato seeds had sprouted and were growing well as of Saturday.

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Professor Xie Gengxin, the experiment’s chief designer, revealed that cotton, rapeseed, potato, arabidopsis – commonly known as rock cress – yeast and fruit flies were the six organisms chosen to go to the moon.

Project chief Liu Hanlong says the cotton seeds were the first to sprout. Photo:

“We have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base,” Liu said.

He said the container was equipped with a small but powerful control system to keep the interior at around 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit).

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Liu said the six components behaved as “producers, consumers and decomposers” in the micro-ecosystem that arrived on the moon. The plants produced oxygen and food by photosynthesis and sustained the fruit flies.

The canister was fully concealed from the extremes of temperature and strong radiation on the moon. Chinese scientists designed tubes for the canister to take natural Earth light to the moon for the plants to aid photosynthesis.

The yeast, acting as a decomposition agent, processed waste from the flies and the dead plants to create an additional food source for the insects.

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Liu said potatoes could be a main source food for space explorers, cotton could be used for clothing, and rapeseed could be a source of oil.

Xie said the six species were chosen because they were small and could grow in a confined environment. They were also hardy enough to withstand some of the extreme conditions on the lunar surface.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China germinates seeds on far side of the moon