The seeds were germinated on Chinese Chang’e-4 lunar lander and started growing after the spacecraft landed. It is the first time that any biological product has grown on the moon.
Chinese scientists sent an 18-cm package containing air, water and soil that included cotton, arabidopsis, a flowering plant of the mustard family, potato seeds, fruit-fly eggs and yeast. The package was placed on the surface of the moon. Photosynthesis is achieved by directing natural light into a canister through a tube. Images show that, until now, only the cotton seeds have sprouted.
According to Chinese researchers, a challenging part of the attempt is to keep appropriate growing temperatures in the canister when the moon's temperature ranges from -173ºC (-279.4ºF) to 100ºC (212ºF). Some concerts are raised about the hazard of contaminating the moon's environment. However, scientists do not worry as the moon has already been subjected to human waste left by the Apollo astronauts.
Being able to grow plants outside of Earth would be a huge leap for humanity as it would facilitate long-term space missions (e.g. Manned missions to Mars). Astronauts would be able to grow food and survive for much longer. Liu Hanlong, the scientist leading the experiment, stated: “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.”
Chang’e-4 departed from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province on early December to land on January 3, 2019. It is the first spacecraft to have landed on the far side (also known as dark side) of the moon. Besides investigating planting potential, its purpose is to study and analyze the geology of the moon, the cosmic radiation and the interaction between solar wind and the moon’s surface.
China has planned to launch 4 extra lunar missions. Spacecraft Chang’e 5 will depart by the end of 2019 and will bring samples from the moon to earth for the first time since the 1970s. Chang’e 6 will also bring samples deriving from the south pole of the moon while unmanned vehicles will conduct detailed investigation of the area. The ultimate purpose is to establish a lunar research base, possibly utilizing 3D printing technology to construct the facilities.