Giant leaf for mankind? China germinates first seed on moon

Eugene Garcia  EPA FILE

Inside are cotton, arabidopsis - a small, flowering plant of the mustard family - and potato seeds, as well as fruit-fly eggs and yeast.

The China National Space Administration announced on Friday that the Chang'e 4 mission was "a complete success" as all scientific equipment mounted on the lander and rover had functioned well and their data had been received by ground control.

The experimental setup is encapsulated within a 19.8cm tall container designed by 28 Chinese universities.

The full moon in January has other names as well, but Native Americans and medieval Europeans gave it the wolf moniker "after the howling of hungry wolves lamenting the midwinter paucity of food", according to National Geographic.

"This is the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface", said Xie Gengxin, who led the design of the experiment. At least two of them will land on the moon's south pole and conduct research, he said.

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During the 20-day journey from Earth to the far side of the moon, the cotton seeds and other plants were made dormant by "biological technology". "Our experiment might help accumulate knowledge for building a lunar base and long-term residence on the moon". If they do, then a synergy could be formed between the plants releasing oxygen and the insects producing carbon dioxide. "And potato could become a major source of food for future space travelers", Liu said. We could probably make some nice sweaters from moon-grown cotton.

Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory's astronomer-at-large, told the BBC the development was "good news". It's likely in the future if all the environmental conditions are met.

Wu Weiren, chief scientist of China's lunar programme, told reporters with state broadcaster CCTV that Nasa scientists had made the request at an worldwide conference a few years ago.

The far side of the Moon, which humans know much less about than the side that faces the Earth, is often mistakenly called the "dark" side, though it is not actually deprived of light. Incidentally, the Chang'e 4 lander first touched down on the far side of the Moon earlier this month, an impressive achievement in and of itself.

The CNSA declared they will return back to the moon this year with the Chang'e-5 mission, as well as launch three successive missions in the following years.

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