China’s Chang’e-4 mission pioneered the first-ever mini biosphere experiment on the lunar surface.
One of the cotton seeds carried by to the lunar surface by the Chang’e 4 mission was reported to have sprouted successfully on the moon Xinhua reported.
It marked the first time such an experiment was attempted on the moon, and it allowed scientists to understand a plethora of things about plants and microorganisms, and their development in environments entirely different from Earth.
As noted by Professor Xie Gengxin, of Chongqing University and chief designer of the experiment, the plant seeds and organisms were carried inside a canister installed on the Chang’e 4 lander.
The mini biosphere included cotton seeds, rapeseed, potato, and Arabidopsis, as well as eggs of the fruit fly and some yeast.
Images recently beamed back to earth from inside the canister showed the mission of growing plants on the moon was a success as the first cotton seeds had sprouted on the lunar surface.
The photographs taken by a camera inside the canister made of a special aluminum alloy showed that only a cotton sport had started to grow. No other plants showed signs of germination.
The special canister installed on the Chinese lander is 198 mm tall, with a diameter of 173 mm and a weight of 2.6 kg.
It also holds water, soil, air, two small cameras, and a heat control system, Professor Xie explained.
As noted by the team of scientists in charge of the experiment, the camera onboard the Lander captured more than 170 images which have been successfully sent to Earth.
After Chang’e-4 landed on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3 making history as the first spacecraft to actually do so, mission scientists instructed the lander to water the plants inside the sealed container in order to start the growing process.
A tube helped direct natural light from the surface of the moon into the canister to allow the plants to grow.
Then, on Sunday, as the first lunar night after the probe’s landing fell, the Chang’e 4 probe entered into a ‘sleep mode’.
The temperature on the surface of the moon could drop to a freezing minus 170 degrees centigrade.
Professor Xie warned, “Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night.”
And so, the experiment ended.
The organisms inside the container will gradually decompose inside the sealed container and will not affect, nor contaminate the lunar environment, explained the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA).
“We had no such experience before. And we could not simulate the lunar environment, such as microgravity and cosmic radiation, on Earth,” Professor Xie warned.