Cotton seeds planted on the far side of the Moon have sprouted for the first time, according to the Chinese space agency.
- The cotton seeds were placed in a sealed canister to protect them from extreme temperatures
- Learning about the plants’ growth could help the establishment of a future space base
- The mission is part of China’s push to explore the Moon’s resources
It is the first time a soft landing has been performed on the Moon’s far side — also known as the dark side because it faces away from Earth and remains comparatively unknown — due to challenges relaying signals.
As part of a bid to investigate the Moon’s potential to support future space travellers, cotton seeds — alongside potato seeds, rapeseed, yeast and fruit fly eggs — were placed in a sealed canister on board the lander to protect them from temperature extremes and radiation.
Images released by the CNSA now appear to show cotton seeds sprouting, in what the ruling Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, The People’s Daily, labelled a “first in human history”.
“A cotton seed brought to the moon by China’s Chang’e 4 probe has sprouted … marking the completion of humankind’s first biological experiment on the moon,” it tweeted.
According to state media quoting space agency officials, rapeseed and potato seeds have also since begun to sprout.
A micro-ecosystem growing on the Moon
The Moon landing, heralded as a step forward for space exploration, hopes to investigate the potential for mankind to survive away from Earth.
Professor Xie Gengxin, the experiment’s chief designer, told the South China Morning Post researchers had given “consideration to future survival in space”.
“Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of a space base,” he said.
Mr Liu told the outlet the items inside the canister acted as “producers, consumers and decomposers” in the micro-ecosystem.
The plants produce oxygen and food by photosynthesis and sustain the fruit flies, he said.
Because the far side faces away from Earth, it is also shielded from radio transmissions — making it the perfect place from where to study the universe.
The mission is part of China’s ambitious push to explore the Moon’s resources and its potential as a space base.