China's Moon mission sees first seeds sprout

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The cotton seed was the only one to sprout.

That makes it the first truly otherworldly plant in history. The ability of plants to grow in space is seen as a crucial element for long-term space missions and for establishing human outposts in the solar system like Mars. Then, when the lander reached the moon's surface, ground control instructed the mini-biosphere to water the plants and expose them to natural light.

The China National Space Agency's Chang'e 4 lander is exploring the mysterious side of our lunar neighbor that faces away from Earth.

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This picture released on January 11, 2019 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows the Chang'e-4 lunar probe, taken by the Yutu-2 moon rover, on the far side of the moon. "Learning about these plants' growth in a low gravity environment would allow us to lay foundation for our future establishment of (a) space base".

The mini biosphere experiment was developed by a team of scientists from Chongqing University in southwest China in collaboration with researchers from 26 domestic scientific research institutions and universities, according to Liu Hanlong, vice chancellor of the Chongqing University. The lander also brought rock cress, fruit fly eggs, and yeast to the moon, all chosen because they were small, hardy organisms that could thrive in a confined space.

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. Cotton could be used for clothing, rapeseed for oil, and the potatoes a source of food.

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Professor Xie Gengxin, the Chinese scientist in charge of the lunar plant experiment, said if successful, the project would signal that China was catching up in space exploration.

The Chang'e-5 mission will collect samples from the near side of the moon at the end of the year while another probe will be sent to Mars by 2020, the deputy head of China's space administration, Wu Yanhua, wrote in an official transcript online.

China has made space exploration a top priority in recent years, as it races to catch up with Russian Federation and the United States and become a major space power by 2030.

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