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China Has Started Growing Plant On The Far Side Of The Moon

China’s Chang’e-4 mission has successfully started growing plants on the moon.

Cotton seeds can be seen sprouting in a photo released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The mission took a variety of seeds to the moon as part of its biosphere experiment and this marks the first time ever that biological material has been cultivated on the lunar surface.

Other biological matter on the Chang’e-4 mission includes cotton, oilseed rape, potato, Arabidopsis, yeast and fruit flies.

More plants are expected to sprout in the next 100 days, the Chinese space agency claims.

Developing the ability to grow plants in space is an important step towards successful long duration space flight to Mars and beyond.

Cotton seeds can be seen sprouting in a photo released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA). The mission took a variety of seeds to the moon as part of its biosphere experiment

It read: ‘After experimenting under the moon’s high vacuum, large temperature difference, strong radiation and harsh conditions, mankind has grown the first plant sprout, realising man’s first moon-based biological growth experiment’.

Images sent back by the probe show the cotton sprout has grown well, but so far none of the other plants on-board have taken, the university said.

Fruit flies – also known as Drosophila – are a model organism widely used throughout science to understand how animals react in different environments.

Their short reproduction time is useful in allowing scientists to understand its genetic impact after several generations of reproduction.

Arabidopsis, a simple plant related to the mustard family, is the plant equivalent of Drosophila and also widely used by scientists.

The studies on these pioneering plants are being done in a specially designed biosphere on the Chang’e-4 lander and not on the mobile rover, Yutu-2.

It has greater temperature regulation and insulation which protects its experiments from the extreme temperatures on the moon.

A lack of atmosphere means the UV rays from the sun reach the surface of the moon unfiltered and unabated.

Temperatures fluctuate between highs of 127°C (261°F) and frigid lows of -173°C (-279°F).

The seeds and eggs are kept in a small cylindrical tin and are expected to grow inside the 0.8L container.

The ‘lunar mini biosphere’ is part of Beijing’s biological studies in space as it plans to build a lunar base and eventually put people on the moon by 2036.

Researchers hope the potato and Arabidopsis seeds will grow to blossom on the moon in 100 days, with the process captured on camera and transmitted to Earth, according to a previous reports.

WHAT IS THE LUNAR MINI BIOSPHERE ABOARD THE CHANG’E-4 PROBE?

As well as radiation monitoring and mineralogical experiments, China’s Chang’e-4 probe contains a ‘lunar mini biosphere’ to perform biological studies.

 It holds potato seeds and silkworm eggs, as well as arabidopsis seeds – plants related to cabbage and mustard that are commonly used by biologists as a model for how plants behave in different environments.

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Researchers hope the seeds will grow to blossom on the Moon, with the process captured on camera and transmitted to Earth.

The 6.6lb (three kg) cylindrical tin is made from a specially developed aluminium alloy.

It is seven inches (18 cm) tall, with a diameter of six inches (16 cm) and a net volume of 1.4 pints (0.8 litres).

As well as seeds, it contains water, a nutrient solution, air and equipment including a small camera and data transmission system.

It will use a tube to direct sunlight on the surface of the Moon into the tin to allow the plants to grow.

Researchers from 28 Chinese Universities are behind the project, led by southwest China’s Chongqing University.

Astronauts have previously cultivated plants on the International Space Station. Rice and arabidopsis were also grown on China’s Tiangong-2 space lab.

Both of these experiments were conducted in low Earth orbit and under very different conditions.

Experts hope that the new experiment will help accumulate knowledge for building a lunar base and long-term residence on the Moon.

The 6.6lb (three kg) tin is made from a specially developed aluminium alloy. It is seven inches (18 cm) tall, with a diameter of six inches (16 cm) and a net volume of 1.4 pints (0.8 litres).

As well as seeds, it contains water, a nutrient solution, air and equipment including a small camera and data transmission system.

Researchers from 28 Chinese Universities are behind the project, led by southwest China’s Chongqing University.

Astronauts have previously cultivated plants on the International Space Station. Rice and Arabidopsis were also grown on China’s Tiangong-2 space lab.

Professor Christopher Conselice, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Nottingha, told MailOnline: ‘China is doing experiments with seeds and worms to see how things form in space and there is relatively little information on this.

‘That’s a new ares of space exploration which we can learn about which was impossible before Chang’e-4.’

Speaking to Xinhua last year, the chief designer of the ‘lunar mini biosphere’ Xie Gengxin called the experiment ‘significant’.

Xie said it could herald a breakthrough for them to understand how humans might be able to survive on an alien planet.

Zhang Yuanxun, a director from China’s Deep-space Exploration Associated Research Centre, said the difficulties of the experiment was to control the temperatures and ensure energy supply for the ‘lunar mini biosphere’ in the ‘complicated’ environment on the moon.

The lunar day and night each lasts for 14 days, half of its orbit around Earth. The temperatures on its surface could range from the peak of 127°C (261°F) to lows of -173°C (-279°F).

To control the temperatures, scientists put insulating layers around the tin and built a mini air-conditioning system inside hoping it could provide a pleasant environment for the plants to grow.

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To obtain energy, the tin will be powered by the solar panels on Chang’e-4 during the day and its internal batteries during the night.

WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF CHINESE SPACE EXPLORATION?

Officials from the Chinese space agency have said the country will return to the moon by the end of 2019 with the Chang’e-5 mission.

This will collect rocks from the near side of the moon and return them to Earth for further study.

Chang’e-6 will be the first mission to explore the south pole of the moon.

Chang’e-7 will study the land surface, composition, space environment in a comprehensive mission, it was claimed, while Chang’e-8 will focus on technical surface analysis.

China is also reportedly working on building a lunar base using 3D printing technology.

Mission number eight will likely lay the groundwork for this as it strives to verify the technology earmarked for the project and if it is viable as a scientific base.

China’s space agency the China National Space Administration (CNSA) also say they want to travel to mars by 2020.

A TIMELINE OF HOW CHINA REACHED THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON

Chang’e-4 launched from the Xichang satellite launch centre in Sichuan, south-west China at 6:30 GMT on December 7

October 24 2007 – China launches Chang’e-1, an unmanned satellite, into space where it remains operational for more than a year.

October 1 2010 – China launches Chang’e-2. This was part of the first phase of the Chinese moon programme. It was in a 100-km-high lunar orbit to gather data for the upcoming Chang’e-3 mission.

September 29, 2011 – China launched Tiangong 1.

September 15 2013 – A second space lab, Tiangong 2, is launched.

December 1 2013 – Chang’e-3 launched.

December 14 2013 – Chang’e-3, a 2,600 lb (1,200 kg) lunar probe landed on the near side of the moon successfully. It became the first object to soft-land on the Moon since Luna 24 in 1976.

April 1 2018 – Tiangong-1 crashed into Earth at 17,000 mph and lands in the ocean off the coast if Tahiti.

May 20 2018 – China launched a relay satellite named Queqiao which is stationed in operational orbit about 40,000 miles beyond the moon. This is designed to enable Chang’e-4 to communicate wit engineers back on Earth.

The Chang’e-4 lunar rover is lifted into space from the Xichang launch centre in Xichang in China’s southwestern Sichuan province on December 7

December 7 2018 – Chinese space agency announces it has launched the Chang’e-4 probe into space.

December 12 2018 –  Retrorockets on the probe fired to stabilise the spacecraft and slow it down.

December 31 2018 –   The probe prepared for the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon.

Estimated for 2020 – Tiangong 3,a follow-up mission to the Tiangong-2

Before 2033 – China plans for its first uncrewed Mars exploration program.

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