Plants have been grown on the Moon for the first time ever by China's Chang'e-4 probe.
According to Xinhua News, one of the cotton seeds carried to the far side of the Moon by China's Chang'e-4 probe has already sprouted in a mini biosphere experiment.
The image of the experiment, released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), shows the cotton seeds sprouting in a sealed container.
According to Chinese scientists, the lunar probe also carried with it sees potatoes, Arabidopsis seeds, oilseed rape, yeast and fruit flies. While the seed potatoes and rapeseed had also germinated in the sealed container, the cotton seeds were the first to sprout.
More seeds are expected to sprout in coming days.
The canister in which the seeds are being grown is made from special aluminium alloy materials. It is 20 centimetres high and has a diameter of 17.3cm. It holds soil, air, water, a heat control system and two small cameras.
However, planting the seeds on the surface of the Moon would be a non-starter. "Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night," said Professor Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University and the chief designer of the experiment.
"We had no such experience before. And we could not simulate the lunar environment, such as microgravity and cosmic radiation, on Earth."
Xie believes the breakthrough could help scientists to grow more vegetables on the Moon in future missions, eventually paving the way for a long-term base on the Moon to be established. For example, the potatoes grown on the Moon could serve as the main source of food for astronauts, while the rapeseed could be used to produce oil.
CNSA said the biological plants sent on the lunar mission had to pass strict requirements because of the extremely small size allowed in the cargo. Only plants that had the best chance of withstanding the harsh conditions of the Moon, such as extreme temperatures and powerful radiation exposure, were selected.
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