Cotton seeds transported to the moon by China have sprouted, marking the first instance of biological matter growing on Earth’s natural satellite, The Guardian reported. The seeds were carried by the Chang’e 4 lunar lander, which touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
Professor Liu Hanlong, who headed the experiment, on Tuesday said that the cotton seeds were the first to sprout, the South China Morning Post reported. However, the team did not provide an exact time for the event.
“This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface,” said Xie Gengxin, who led the project design.
Liu added that rapeseed and potato seeds had also sprouted on the moon and were growing well as of last week. Although plants have previously been grown on the International Space Station, this is the first time seeds have germinated on the moon.
Xie said that the probe carried cotton, rapeseed, potato, arabidopsis, yeast, and fruit flies. “We have given consideration to future survival in space,” he said. “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 the six components behaved as “producers, consumers and decomposers” in the micro-ecosystem onboard the lunar lander. The plants produced oxygen and food by photosynthesis and helped sustain the fruit flies. In order to help with the photosynthesis, scientists had designed tubes for the canister to take natural Earth light to the moon. The canister was fully concealed from extreme temperatures and strong radiation on the moon.
Liu said potatoes could be a main source of food for astronauts, cotton could be used for clothing, and rapeseed could be a source of oil.
The probe has sent back more than 170 pictures from the moon so far, Xinhua reported.
China had launched the probe on December 8. It is expected to explore low-frequency radio signals emanating from the far side of the moon, survey the terrain and land forms, detect the mineral composition of the surface and measure neutron radiation to understand the environment on the satellite’s far side.