China has broken new lunar ground, efficiently growing cotton on the moon for the first time. The experiment was a part of the Chang’e 4 project, in which China is exploring the far facet of the moon with a lander. This is a similar lander that recently found a mysterious gel-like material on the moon’s surface.
The cotton plant was one of several plants encased in a mini biosphere weighing just 2.6 kilograms (5.7 lbs) with a pressure of 1 atmosphere, which was aboard the lander. The plants experienced an environment often much like that on Earth; however, they need to deal with each space radiation and microgravity.
In an interview with engineering magazine, project leader for the experiment, Xie Gengxin explained more regarding the challenges of growing plants within the controlled atmosphere. “The weight of the Chang’e-4 probe demanded that the weight can’t exceed three kilograms,” he mentioned. That’s why it was essential to pick the biological samples in the experiment carefully.
In the end, the team selected five species of biological organisms to send to the moon: Cotton seeds, potato seeds, arabidopsis seeds, yeast, and fruit-fly eggs. Most of these died rapidly; however, the cotton seeds sprouted and grew, not one, however, two leaves. Although plants have grown on the International Space Station before, this experiment marks the first time a plant has grown on the moon surface.