On January 3rd, 2019 the Chinese sent a probe called Chang’e-4 onto the lunar surface. The probe had samples of cotton, yeast rapeseed, potato, fruit flies and the flowering plant Arabidopsis. They hoped to grow these plants on the lunar surface, perhaps as a way to prepare for the eventual terraforming of the moon or to show that terraforming is possible.
One Small Step For Plantkind
Terraforming is the theoretical transformation of a planet into an earth like biosphere. This could be used to provide more food for overpopulated nations or even ease overpopulation by creating planetary colonies. For many years, this seemed like the fanciful imaginings of science fiction. However, the Chinese scientists proved that it may be possible.
The cotton seeds were put into hibernation on the journey and awakened from being watered by the probe. In addition to the six plant species, the experiment included water, soil, air, two small cameras and a heat control system. According to the website EarthSky.org, the experiment ran for 212.75 hours. They did sprout, but died after succumbing to the frigid temperatures of the lunar night.
Despite the short duration Xie Gengxin, the scientist responsible for the experiment, remained hopeful. He stated,
“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. Although it is a biological payload for popularizing science, it laid a foundation and technological support for our next step, that is, to build a lunar base for living.”
While this is the first time plant life has been grown on the moon, it is not the first time plants have been grown in space. Cucumbers have been grown on the International Space Station and algae was grown outside of the station.
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