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Seeds carried to the moon by China's Chang'e-4 mission have sprouted, says China National Space Administration. The green shoots are the first time any biological matter has been grown on the moon.
The breakthrough is a massive leap towards sustainable deep space colonization.
Chang'e 4 touched down on the far side of the moon on 3 January with equipment, and a rover intended to explore the moon's surface and to conduct the biological growth experiments.
The experiments designed by Chongqing University Crops have been successfully grown on the International Space Station, but they have never before been grown on the moon.
Moon could be the farm for Mars
Being able to grow food makes the idea of using the moon as a base for Mars exploration more viable. It could mean that humans could potentially be sustainable in space without needing resupplies from Earth.
The Chinese spacecraft carried a sealed metal canister containing potato seeds, oilseed rape seeds, cotton seeds, arabidopsis, drosophila melanogaster, and yeast.
“The plants would generate oxygen and food for other living things to 'consume'. The drosophila melanogaster, as consumers, and yeast, as decomposers, would generate carbon dioxide by consuming oxygen for photosynthesis of plants."
"In addition, the yeast can decompose the waste of plants and drosophila melanogaster and grow, and can also serve as food of drosophila melanogaster. With this circle, a mini biosphere comprising producers, consumers and decomposers is formed,” says the Chongqing University page.
China’s ruling Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily tweeted an image of a sprouted cottonseed with the caption "the completion of humankind's first biological experiment on the Moon."
Many have questioned whether the experiment is likely to contaminate the moon, however, experts believe this is unlikely also considering there are more than 100 bags of human waste on the Moon left behind by the Apollo astronauts.
China plans space base
Prof Xie Gengxin, the experiment's chief designer, was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post: "We have 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 space base."
China is energetically expanding its space program. Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), a press conference laid out the countries plans for several more lunar missions.
They hope Chang'e 5 will be launched this year tasked with bringing the first moon samples back to earth since the 1970s.
“Experts are still discussing and verifying the feasibility of subsequent projects, but it’s confirmed that there will be another three missions after Chang’e 5,” said Wu.
According to Wu, Chang’e 6 will be on a mission to collect samples from the Moon's South pole and later missions will be designed to conduct surveys of the surrounding area.
There are also plans for the missions to explore the possibility of building a lunar research base possibly using 3D printing.