In a pioneering experiment, and marking the first time that it manages to successfully grow a plant land on the lunar surface, China has opened new paths, growing cotton on the moon. The achievement was part of the Project, Chang’e 4, with which the asian country is exploring the dark side of the moon with a lander. This is the same module that he recently discovered a mysterious gelatinous substance on the surface of our satellite.
The cotton plant was one of several biological samples that were locked up in a mini-biosphere aboard the lander. In this way, the agencies experienced an environment very similar to that of the Earth, but also had to deal with space radiation and microgravity.
In an interview with the journal of engineering, IEEE Spectrum, project leader, Xie Gengxin, explained more about the challenges of growing plants in a restricted environment. “The total weight of the probe Chang’e-4 demanded that the weight of the specimens may not exceed three kilograms,” he said. That was why it was important to carefully select the biological samples in the experiment.
As an illustration, a 3D reconstruction published by the University of Chongqing shows the leaves of the cotton plant that grew within the lander Chang’e 4 on the dark side of the moon.
What flies on the moon?
The team selected five species of biological organisms to send to the moon. Three types of seed: cotton, seed potatoes and seeds of a weed called arabidopsis. As the fourth specimen included yeast, and finally, fly eggs. Most of these organisms died quickly, but the cotton seeds sprouted and grew not one but two sheets. But other plants had already been cultivated before in the International Space Station, this experiment marks the first time grown a plant on the moon.
However, despite the best efforts of the cotton, the leaves were killed in a lunar day, which is equivalent to two weeks here on Earth. During the lunar night, temperatures on the moon drop dramatically, and without heating external agencies were condemned by the cold. But to test if the organisms could survive, the chinese scientists continued the experiment for several months.
Originally, the team planned to send animals as part of the experiment, including a small turtle. However, this idea had to be discarded due to the limited availability of oxygen. “Although it is very significant to choose a turtle, the oxygen within the payload can only be used for about 20 days for the turtles,” explained Xie.
In future experiments, the team of researchers wants to send more complex organisms to the moon, including animals, although they did not say what. It could be that they have an opportunity to do so with the mission Chang’e 6 of China, scheduled for early 2020.
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