On the Far Side of the Moon, Cotton Grows

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It is hoped that the plants will become the first to be grown on the moon, in a 100 day experiment and pictures have been released already of cotton seeds growing.

Now, in the first ever biological experiment to take place on the moon, cotton seeds housed in a sealed container on board the Chang'e 4 lander have begun to sprout. The six-wheeled vehicle is carrying a mini biosphere with a live potato, rapeseed and arabidopsis plants, fruit fly eggs, cotton, and some yeast.

It's the first time any biological matter has grown on the Moon, although plants have been grown on the International Space Station before.

The idea is that the plants produce oxygen and food for the fruit flies.

In an attempt to better understand how plants and animals could grow and live on the lunar surface, Chongqing University equipped the Chang'e 4 lander with a "mini-biosphere" experiment, which is created to be a self-sustaining ecosystem, according to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua. The container was equipped with a small but powerful control system to keep the interior around 25 degrees Celsius.

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

The Chang'e-4 lander, which carries the 3 kg biosphere, imaged by the Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the Moon in January 2019.

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

While China has insisted that the probe prevents any organisms on its lunar lander from contaminating the surface, earlier space explorers were not so cautious.

"In the past, we were always rushing to catch up to the advanced global standards" in space, said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China's lunar exploration project.

The state-run China Daily said that was the first such form of cooperation since the 2011 USA law was enacted.

Permanently lit regions around the south pole are considered prime locations for a lunar base, particularly because permanently shadowed craters nearby are judged likely to hold the reserves of frozen water needed for crewed operations.