Before the Chang’e-4 spacecraft blasted off to land on moon’s far side, Chinese scientists snuck a small canister on the spacecraft to try and make the mission historic for the country. The Chang’e-4 mission touched down on January 3, and the cotton, rapeseed and potato seeds which were inside the specially-designed canister have now successfully sprouted.
The spacecraft became the first to land on the far side of the Moon and is seen as an important step for the country as it looks to push forward its space program and a major step in China’s ambitions to become a space superpower. Moreover, China’s achievement takes on further significance considering the growing interest in the moon as a staging post and a forward base for future flights to Mars.
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“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. He revealed that cotton, rapeseed, potato, rock cress, yeast and fruit flies were the six organisms chosen to go to the moon.
The closest plants have come to the moon in the past was during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971, where NASA astronaut Stuart Roosa carried hundreds of seeds with him to the moon’s orbit. These seeds were brought back to Earth with the crew and planted as “Moon trees” in America, Brazil, Switzerland and Japan, according to NASA. While plants like zinnias and leaf vegetables have been grown in space on the International Space Station, none had ever been grown on the moon.
Gengxin also told the South China Morning Post, “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.”
Chang’e-4 is equipped with instruments developed by scientists from Sweden, Germany and China to study the lunar environment, cosmic radiation and the interaction between solar wind and the moon’s surface.
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The spacecraft released a rover, dubbed Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit), that will perform experiments in the Von Karman Crater.
The agency said four more lunar missions are planned, confirming the launch of a probe by the end of the year to bring back samples from the moon.
Meanwhile, the Chang’e-4 is continuing on its other major scientific mission of surveying the lunar terrain and gathering data on the moon’s landform and mineral composition. A particular area of focus is the Aitken basin, which is one of the largest craters in the solar system. The probe has also beamed back the 170 odd photos it has taken of the lunar surface.
Now, China plans to commence the construction of its large modular space station next year as the third phase of its Tiangong space station program. Earlier, China had launched the Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space stations as preliminary steps.
Source: uk.news.yahoo, theguardian.com, cnbc.com, outlookindia.com