Seeds taken to the moon by China’s Chang’e-4 mission have sprouted, says China’s National Space Administration. Plants have been grown on the International Space Station but never on the moon. The ability to grow plants on the moon could prove useful for long-term space missions, like a trip to Mars which would take about two-and-a-half years.

The Chinese moon lander carried soil containing cotton and potato seeds, yeast and fruit fly eggs, as part of its cargo. The plants are in a sealed container on board the lander. Plants will try to form a mini biosphere – an artificial, self-sustaining environment.

Will the moon be contaminated?

The lunar mini biosphere experiment on the Chang’e-4 lander is designed to test photosynthesis and respiration – processes in living organisms that result in the production of energy. The whole experiment is contained within an 18cm tall, 3kg canister that was designed by 28 Chinese universities.

Some have raised the question as to whether the experiment risks ‘contaminating’ the moon with biological material, but scientists generally think this is of little concern. And it’s worth reiterating that there are already containers of human waste on the Moon left behind by the Apollo astronauts.

On Tuesday (15 January 2018), Chinese state media said the cotton seeds had grown buds. Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory’s astronomer-at-large, told the BBC the development was “good news”. “It suggests that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment.” China’s Xinhua news agency said that the seeds were rendered dormant using “biological technology” during the 20-day journey from earth to the moon. They only started to grow once ground control centre sent a command to the probe to water the seeds. Click here to read the full article. – BBC