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Moon sprouts: one small step for cotton, one giant step for China

Moon sprouts: one small step for cotton, one giant step for China
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“We have given consideration to future survival in space,” Prof. Xie Gengxin, the experiment’s designer and the dean of the Institute of Advanced Technology at Chongqing University told the South China Morning Post. “Learning about these plants’ growth in a low gravity environment would allow us to lay foundation for our future establishment of (a) space base.”

China is now the third country to establish a presence on the moon after the United States and Russia. This mission has launched China into space race.

“This is limited in what it’s doing, but also unique from analog experiments on the Earth,” freelance journalist Andrew Jones, who covers China’s space program told The Verge

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The cotton along with potato seed, fruit-fly eggs, arabidopsis — a small, flowering plant of the mustard family — and yeast landed on the moon Jan. 3 aboard the Chang’e 4 lander.  According to the BBC , the sprouts are part of an ongoing experiment to test photosynthesis and respiration.

The Chang’e 4 is also the first vehicle to land on the far-side of the moon.

During the 20-day journey from Earth to the far side of the moon, the cotton seeds and other plants were made dormant by “biological technology”.

This picture released on January 11, 2019 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows the Chang’e-4 lunar probe, taken by the Yutu-2 moon rover, on the far side of the moon. The Chinese space agency said four more lunar missions are planned, confirming the launch of a probe by the end of the year to bring back samples from the moon. CHINA NATIONAL SPACE ADMINISTRATION / CHINA NATIONAL SPACE ADMINISTRATION

The seeds began growing once they received water from the probe via a command from a ground control centre. So far, only the cotton seeds have sprouted.

The plants grow inside a 18cm tall canister, designed by 28 Chinese universities, that has an air supply, water and nutrients. Chongqing University calls the experiment a “lunar mini biosphere”. The greatest challenge according to Chinese scientists is the constant weather changes on the moon. The temperature can range from -173C to 100C.

“This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface,” Gengxin told The Guardian.

Gengxin added that these plants could be used to grow food and make cooking oil. For example, potatoes serve as a good source and can make rapeseed oil which is similar to canola oil. The cotton can make material for astronaut’s clothes. By having a supply base on the moon, space travel to Mars and beyond could become easier.

To the Australian Astronomical Association astronomer-at-large, Fred Watson, the development was “good news,” reports the BBC.

“It suggests that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment.”

Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the national space agency, speaks during a press conference held in Beijing, China, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019. Wu said Monday that NASA shared information about its lunar orbiter satellite in hopes of monitoring the landing of the Chang’e 4 spacecraft, which made China the first country to set down on the far side of the moon earlier this month. Ng Han Guan/ASSOCIATED PRESS / Associated Press

With the success of the cotton underway, China plans to continue its plans for further space exploration The goal of the next moon probe will be to bring samples of the moon back to Earth.

The China National Space Administration held a press conference on Monday in Beijing where the agency outlined its future plans.

Wu Yanhua, the deputy head of the China National Space Administration also announced that China will send a mission to Mars in 2020.

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