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China science

China plans to grow potatoes in space ... like Matt Damon did in The Martian

A container with seeds and silkworm eggs will be sent to the moon’s surface next year

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 10:12pm

China’s space officials are trying to achieve in real life what Matt Damon did in his sci-fi box office hit The Martian – to grow crops in space.

For the first time in history, Chinese space authorities are planning to grow potatoes and raise worms on the moon, the Chongqing Morning Post reported on Tuesday.

A 3kg mini-ecosystem container developed by research teams led by Chongqing University would be transported to the moon’s surface by the Chang’e 4 that would be launched in 2018, authorities revealed last week.

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“The container will send potatoes, arabidopsis seeds and silkworm eggs to the surface of the moon. The eggs will hatch into silkworms, which can produce carbon dioxide, while the potatoes and seeds emit oxygen through photosynthesis. Together, they can establish a simple ecosystem on the Moon,” Zhang Yuanxun, chief designer of the container, was quoted as saying in the report.

In the 2015 movie The Martian, Damon plays an astronaut who survives for four years on Mars by planting potatoes on the planet.

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For China’s ambitions to grow crops on the moon, temperature control and energy supply were the biggest challenges faced in setting up an ecosystem there, Zhang said.

Suitable temperature for plants and insects to survive and thrive is between 1 and 30 degrees Celsius. But the moon’s surface temperature ranges between -170 degrees Celsius at night to 120 degrees Celsius in the day.

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To get around the problem, the container would be equipped with an insulating layer and light pipes to ensure the growth of the plants and insects inside, the report said. Specially designed batteries would also be installed in the container to provide a consistent energy supply.

The project’s chief designer Xie Gengxin said their mission was to prepare for future moon landings and possible human inhabitants.

“We will livestream the development of plants and insects on lunar surface to the whole world,” Xie said.