Plants on the Moon?

Zoe Raste

Recently, China has been expanding its space program. The nation has only recently gotten into world-class space exploration, but they are already performing ground-breaking work. On January 3, 2019, the Chinese probe Chang’e-4 was the first probe to land on the far side of the moon, or, thanks to the Pink Floyd Song, the “Dark Side of the Moon.” In fact, the Chang’e-4 landed in the moon’s oldest and deepest crater which can lead scientists to understand the evolution and origins of the moon. It also may be rich in minerals, possibly giving China an advantage in lunar minerals if that becomes a new industry.

This is a picture of the Chang’e-4 on the far side of the moon.

As well as being the first probe to land on the far side of the moon, China’s Chang’e-4 was the first to perform biological experiments on the moon. In other words, the Chang’e-4 grew plants on the moon. A mini-biosphere was sent with the Chang’e-4 to the moon which included cotton seeds, potato-like vegetable seeds, rapeseed (a type of flower), and fruit-fly eggs. On January 7th, 2019, China released pictures of the cotton seeds actually sprouting and beginning to grow. However, a little more than a week later, the plants were reported dead. Despite the controlled environment in the biosphere, the harsh lunar characteristics killed the growing plants. The low gravity, high radiation, and extreme temperatures are not opportune for life. The temperature specifically killed the budding cotton. The moon’s temperature can fluctuate from about -250℉ at night to 250℉ during the day. The biosphere was powered with solar power, and due to the moon’s peculiar two-week night, the container lost power, subjecting the plants to extremely low temperatures, killing them.

A picture of cotton plants growing in the Chang’e-4’s biosphere on Jan. 7th

Overall, China’s recent achievements have opened up the door for further space exploration. Specifically, China’s experiments have been designed to try and find the perfect conditions to create colonies on the moon, which China hopes to accomplish by the late 2020s. An exciting new space age is upon us, one that will push the boundaries of science as we know it.

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