China to collect samples from moon this year

Cristina Cross
January 15, 2019

This of course marks the first time that a plant has ever grown on the Moon, with the seeds naturally sprouting in a specially designed and concealed container.

The China National Space Administration released a photo Tuesday showing that cotton seeds brought to the far side of the moon by the country's Chang'e 4 lander had germinated, the South China Morning Post reports.

Placed on the Chang'e-4's lander, the mini biosphere, which was developed by scientists at China's Chongqing University, is a sealed, heat-controlled soil, water and air-filled aluminum alloy canister that also contains potato, rapeseed and thale cress seeds, as well as yeast and fruit fly eggs. The plants produced oxygen and food by photosynthesis and sustained the fruit flies. The container with all the organisms is equipped with a control system that keeps the inside at 25C. The yeast is used to decompose plant material and provide the files with other food sources.

Ability to grow plants on the moon would be key for long term missions like a trip to Mars.

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.

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The seeds and eggs were kept dormant as the probe traveled through space.

Researchers at Chongqing University are conducting an experiment to observe how plants can grow in low-gravity environments and in the natural lighting conditions of the moon.

He said that the plants inside were "producers, consumers and decomposers", providing their own self-sustaining ecosystem.

"China, the U.S., Russian Federation and countries from Europe are all studying whether to set up a research base or station on the moon, like if we can build houses with lunar soil via 3-D printing technology", China's CGTN network quoted Wu as saying.

Chang'e-4 and its solar-powered Yutu 2 rover are hibernating during the 2-week-long lunar night, but their handlers are already thinking about sending probes to places where the sun nearly always shines. The series of missions will also lay the groundwork for the construction of a lunar research base, possibly using 3D printing technology to build facilities.

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