Chinese lunar mission bears fruit, grows cotton seed

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The probe took some cotton and potato seeds with it to see if scientists could get them to grow - and the China National Space Administration has now confirmed that the cotton seeds have indeed sprouted!

China became the fist nation to put a spacecraft on the far side of the moon when Chang'e 4 touched down in early January.

Images released by the CNSA now appear to show cotton seeds sprouting, in what the ruling Communist Party's official mouthpiece, The People's Daily, labelled a "first in human history".

China's bold moon-exploration plans don't stop with the pioneering Chang'e 4 mission, which made the first-ever soft landing on the lunar far side on January 2. Fortuitously, the latest reports show that the seeds have germinated! "From a purely technical point of view, the seeds are the first living material to be deliberately grown on another planetary body, and that's a significant milestone". "Whether the probe will land on the near side or the far side of the moon, we will make the decision according to the performance of Chang'e 5", he said. The "lunar mini biosphere" experiment was selected from more than 250 submissions.

They began growing when the control centre back on Earth sent a command to the probe telling it to water the seeds.

Xie believes the breakthrough could help scientists to grow more vegetables on the Moon in future missions, eventually paving the way for a long-term base on the Moon to be established. The experiment is contained within an 18 cm, 3 kg (7 lbs.) canister designed by 28 universities in China. A tube directed natural light on the surface of the Moon into the canister to allow the plants to grow.

According to Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the development represented a step in the right direction.

Harvesting food in space, ideally using locally extracted water, would mean astronauts could survive for far longer without returned to Earth for supplies.

With the success of the cotton underway, China plans to continue its plans for further space exploration The goal of the next moon probe will be to bring samples of the moon back to Earth.

In fact, the success of China's experiment has prompted space and worldwide affairs analysts muse that the nation's foray into lunar exploration could catalyze a new space race of sorts!

"China will carry out its first-ever exploration mission to Mars around 2020", he said.

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