China is racking up an impressive set of achievements in its latest lunar mission after successfully landing on the far side of the moon, and its newest endeavor is truly one for the history books – China has grown plants on the Moon for the very first time in the history of space exploration.
On Tuesday, China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) released a batch of photos revealing that the Chang’e 4 lunar rover has completed its first-ever biological experiment on the surface of the moon.
According to a tweet by China’s People’s Daily newspaper, a cotton seed brought to the moon in a sealed container sprouted, marking “the completion of humankind’s first biological experiment on the moon.”
First in human history: A cotton seed brought to the moon by China's Chang'e 4 probe has sprouted, the latest test photo has shown, marking the completion of humankind's first biological experiment on the moon pic.twitter.com/CSSbgEoZmC
— People's Daily, China (@PDChina) January 15, 2019
“This is the first plant shoot to grow on the Moon after experiencing severe environmental tests that included low gravity, strong radiation and a high temperature difference on the Moon,” the People’s Daily noted in a separate news release.
In addition to cotton, rapeseed and potato seeds were also included in the lunar probe’s biological payload, which included what scientists have dubbed a “moon surface micro-ecological circle.” Lead researcher Professor Liu Hanlong said that while the cotton seeds were the first to sprout, the rapeseed and potato sprouts quickly followed and, as of Saturday, have been in good health.
South China Morning Post reported that the experiment’s chief designer, Professor Xie Gengxin, revealed that rock cress, yeast and fruit fly pupa were the other organisms chosen for the mission in hopes of creating a micro-ecosystem that would include “producers, consumers and decomposers” and could withstand the extreme conditions of the Moon while being grown in a small, confined environment.
“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,” Liu told the Post.
Scientists involved in the experiment designed a climate control system along with special tubes that store natural earth light to aid photosynthesis, according to Xinhua News Agency.
China hopes to explore both lunar poles by 2030 after which it will send manned missions to the Moon, where it hopes to eventually establish a permanent base.
The experiment is the latest breakthrough in China’s pioneering space program, which has shocked U.S. war-planners who see China’s new space program as part of the country’s plans to make space “central to modern warfare.” In October, Jeff Gossel, senior intelligence engineer at the Space and Missile Analysis Group of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, argued that China’s goal of building a moon base will allow its military to vastly expand its anti-satellite capabilities.
China, for its part, has denied that it seeks to militarize space and has pointed to the U.S. military’s own drive to place warfighting infrastructure in the Near Earth orbit.
Since coming to office, President Donald Trump has issued numerous statements stressing his desire to establish a new Space Force as a separate service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Last month, the U.S. leader ordered that a “Space Command” or SpaceCom be formed as a new U.S. military command alongside CentCom in the Middle East and AfriCom in Africa.
“China has consistently proposed the peaceful usage of space, and opposes the weaponization of space and a space arms race,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a briefing last month.
“We oppose even further turning space into the new battleground.”