China is relishing in the success of landing a lunar rover on the far side of the moon.
It touched down on 3 January, carrying instruments to analyse the region's geology. Astronauts onboard the International Space Station regularly tend plants to study how growth changes in microgravity (and to diversify astronaut diets in space), and plants and seeds have orbited Earth on and off throughout spaceflight history.
Worldwide discussions about sending humans to the Moon and Mars have brought many challenges waiting to be solved, and among them is food supply. It could mean that humans could potentially be sustainable in space without needing resupplies from Earth. Yeast, fruit flies, and rock cress were also sent aboard Chang'e-4 as part of an experiment to investigate growth in low-gravity environments.
The Chinese National Space Administration said that it hopes the crops will form a miniature biosphere, essentially a ecosystem which is capable of sustaining itself.
Will the Moon be contaminated?
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Regardless of whether the soil could support plants, the far side of the moon has high mountains, craters and few large, flat areas, said Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Chang'e-4 lunar lander.
The plants grow inside a 18cm tall canister, designed by 28 Chinese universities, that has an air supply, water and nutrients. The container with all the organisms is equipped with a control system that keeps the inside at 25C.
Meanwhile, the silkworm eggs will also hopefully hatch into moths, reports the SCMP.
The Chang'e-4 probe had achieved the expected landing precision. The BBC notes that there are already "nearly 100 bags of human waste on the Moon left behind by the Apollo astronauts".
On Tuesday, Chinese state media said the cotton seeds had now grown buds. A first-of-its-kind mini biosphere experiment, which the lunar lander carried, contained seeds of cotton, rape, potato and Arabidopsis. The moon's nighttime period lasts for about two Earth weeks. The series of missions will also lay the groundwork for the construction of a lunar research base, possibly using 3D printing technology to build facilities. "And potato could become a major source of food for future space travelers", Liu said.