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In out-of-this-world first, Chinese cotton seed sprouts on moon

More than 170 pictures have been taken by the cameras and sent back to Earth. the team said

Tuesday January 15, 2019 5:16 PM, ummid.com News Network

China Cotton Seed on Moon

[After making the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon, China's Chang'e-4 mission pioneered the first mini biosphere experiment on the moon. (Photo: AFP/Chongqing University)]

Chongqing: One of the cotton seeds carried to the moon by China's Chang'e-4 probe is the first ever to sprout on the moon, according to scientists of a mini biosphere experiment Tuesday.

After making the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon, China's Chang'e-4 mission pioneered the first mini biosphere experiment on the moon.

Professor Xie Gengxin, of Chongqing University and chief designer of the experiment, said a canister installed on the lander of the Chang'e-4 probe contained the seeds of cotton, rapeseed, potato and Arabidopsis, as well as eggs of the fruit fly and some yeast, to form a simple mini biosphere, Xinhua reported Tuesday.

Plants have been grown on the International Space Station before but never on the Moon. The ability to grow plants on the Moon will be integral for long-term space missions, like a trip to Mars which would take about two-and-a-half years.

"This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface," AFP quoted Xie Gengxin, who led the design of the experiment, as saying.

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.

Scientists from Chongqing University -- who designed the "mini lunar biosphere" experiment -- sent an 18-centimetre (seven-inch) bucket-like container holding air, water and soil.

Inside are cotton, potato, and arabidopsis seeds -- a plant of the mustard family -- as well as fruit fly eggs and yeast. Images sent back by the probe show a cotton sprout has grown well, but so far none of the other plants has taken, the university said.

"More than 170 pictures have been taken by the cameras and sent back to Earth", the team said.

Xie said potatoes could be a major source of food for future space travelers. The growth period of Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, is short and easy to observe. Yeast could play a role in regulating carbon dioxide and oxygen in the mini biosphere, and the fruit fly would be a consumer of the photosynthesis process.

Researchers used biological technology to render the seeds and eggs dormant during the two months when the probe went through the final checks in the launch center and journey of more than 20 days through space.

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