Animals and Plants are Now Living on the Moon – Thanks to China

By Matthew Bossons, January 7, 2019

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There is now known life elsewhere in our solar system, thanks to the China National Space Administration’s Chang’e-4 moon rover.

The exploration probe landed on the far side of the moon last week in a historic first, bringing with it a 3-kilogram metal canister containing potato and rockcress seeds, as well as silkworm eggs, according to LiveScience.  

While this is by no means the first time living organisms have been launched into space (see Ham and Enos the chimpanzees, the two tortoises that circled the moon and the Apollo moon missions for reference), this is the first time plants and animals have landed on the far side of the moon. 

The organisms aboard Chang’e-4 are in something of a symbiotic relationship, with the plants expected to provide the silkworms with oxygen and the worms providing the plants with carbon dioxide. Sunlight for the plants will come through a tube into the canister, while water, air, dirt and nutrients are already inside the container.  

A camera is also housed inside the (presumably very expensive) ‘lunar mini biosphere’ experiment, so that scientists on earth can monitor the plants to see whether they perform photosynthesis, sprout, grow and bloom while Chang’e-4 explores the moon’s far side. 

“We have to keep the temperature in the ‘mini biosphere’ within a range from 1 degree to 30 degrees, and properly control the humidity and nutrition,” Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment, told Xinhua. “We will use a tube to direct the natural light on the surface of Moon into the tin to make the plants grow.” 

Xie added that the idea behind the study, which is a partnership between 23 Chinese universities, is to learn more about seed respiration and photosynthesis on the moon. 

While rockcress (also known as arabidopsis, a plant related to cabbage and mustard, according to LiveScience) has been successfully grown in outer space before, including aboard the International Space Station, it’s unclear whether the plant will thrive 384,000 kilometers away from home. 

“Why potato and arabidopsis? Because the growth period of arabidopsis is short and convenient to observe. And potato could become a major source of food for future space travelers,” said Vice President of Chongqing University Liu Hanlong, according to Xinhua. Liu also serves as the experiment’s chief director. “Our experiment might help accumulate knowledge for building a lunar base and long-term residence on the moon.”

Since Chang’e-4 has no direct view of earth, data from the lunar mini biosphere experiment will be broadcast home using a complex communication network that includes the Queqiao satellite, which was launched back in May

READ MORE: China Lands Probe on Moon's Far Side, Makes Space Exploration History

[Cover image via China National Space Administration h/t space.com]

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