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First plant to grow on the Moon ever!

Do you think we can one day sustain life outside of Earth? Perhaps one day in the future, but when will that be? That day may be sooner than you think!

The first time biological matter to  sprout and grow on the moon has been achieved! On January 2nd 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe landed on the far side of the moon where no human or robot has ever ventured before.  It carried a “lunar biosphere” experiment containing plant seeds and silkworm eggs.  The plan is that the plants provide oxygen for the silkworms, and in turn, the silkworms will nurture the plants with its waste and released carbon dioxide. There are potato, rock-cress and cotton seeds among the seeds carried on board.  The “biosphere” experiment is all contained inside a 0.8 liter aluminum alloy cylinder weighing in around three kilograms and includes nutrients, water and dirt.  Sunlight is filtered into the container through a tube with small cameras set up inside. The cameras watch the environment and relay the footage back to Earth through a complicated relay system. The accomplishments so far show great progress towards sustaining life on the moon.

A picture of Yutu-2 taken by the Chang’e-4 lunar probe. Source: China National Space Administration (CNSA)

The Far Side of the Moon

The moon’s rotation speed is in sync with Earth’s orbit.  This results in the moon rotating on its axis and also orbiting the Earth every 28 days.  The same face of the moon always faces Earth, and the side we can’t see from the planet’s surface is considered the far side.

source: YouTube
Why is it hard to land on the far side of the moon?

To put it bluntly, the moon blocks radio contact to Earth and makes it very difficult to maintain a communication link. To overcome this issue, in May 2018, CNSA launched a satellite Queqiao into orbit around “L2.” L2 is a point beyond the moon where the gravity of the moon and Earth cancel out the centripetal force of an object stationed there. This satellite helps bridge the gap between the Chang”e-4’s lander and mission control.

China has sprouted plants on the moon!

A picture taken on January 12th 2019 of the cotton seeds growing after the excitement of them sprouting a few days prior. Source: Chongqing University.

Out of all the germinated seeds (rapeseed, potato seed, cotton seeds), the cotton seeds were the first to sprout.  This amazing breakthrough could be the start to a new era and displays great progress towards a system where food ( such as potatoes), clothing (from the cotton), and oil (from rapeseed) can be sustained for space explorers.  Being able to grow plants on any celestial body outside of Earth will be necessary for any future human settlements outside of Earth.

In the future, if things go as planned, China will launch Chang’e-5 sample-return mission later this year. Let’s all look forward to the future progress together! Keep an eye out!

-Peter Le