China which landed the probe Chang’e 4, the first to land on the far side of the moon, has confirmed that they have successfully sprouted cotton seeds, making it the first instance of a plant being grown on the moon.
The experiment, which is being led by a team of researchers from Chongqing University, is the first biological growth experiment attempted successfully outside of Earth, though similar experiments have been done on the ISS.
6 different plant species were sent to the moon
The cotton plant will generate oxygen needed for other organisms to “breathe”. According to Chongqing University, the fruit fly, as consumers, and yeast, as decomposers, would generate carbon dioxide by consuming oxygen for photosynthesis of plants. In addition, the yeast can decompose the waste of plants and fruit flies and grow, and can also serve as the food source for the fruit flies.
With this circle, a mini biosphere comprising producers, consumers and decomposers is formed.
The experiment, which is a precursor to larger experiments around building a sustainable habitat on a permanent moon base that China plans to build in future.
Experiment has long way to go and findings could be crucial for space travel
The sprouting of the cotton seed, the first step in the experiment, is designed to test photosynthesis and create oxygen for other organisms. With further steps that will test the circular lifecycle of the self-sustaining biosphere which could prove crucial for space travel.
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However, developing the biosphere is not without challenges with the temperatures fluctuating by almost more than 250C during day and night, from -173C to almost 100C.
Another aim of the study is learn about growing plants in low-gravity environments.
Professor Xie Gengxin, who leads the experiments, mentioned to SCMP: “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.”