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Giant leaf for mankind? China germinates first seed on moon

15 January 2019

The Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, The People's Daily hailed the achievement as "humankind's first biological experiment on the moon".

Inside are cotton, potato, and arabidopsis seeds - a plant of the mustard family - as well as fruit fly eggs and yeast.

The plans underscore China's ambitions in space at a time when the U.S. is curtailing NASA's budget and increasingly handing over space exploration to commercial adventurers, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

Liu Hanlong, who is leading the experiment, said that the cotton seeds were the first to sprout, in comments to the South China Morning Post.

Ability to grow plants on the moon would be key for long term missions like a trip to Mars.

Riding on its success of landing a rover on the far side of the Moon earlier in January, China's space agency is planning to launch another mission to the Moon by the end of 2019 and a mission to Mars as early as 2020, the media reported.

Seeds taken to the far side of the moon as part of China's lunar exploration mission have sprouted in a first for growing biological matter on the satellite.

Such a base would likely rely on seeds being grown on the moon by astronauts, reducing the need for costly resupplies. But the closest that terrestrial vegetation has come to the moon before now was in 1971, when Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa carried hundreds of tree seeds to orbit the moon with him.

The lunar mini biosphere experiment on the Chang'e-4 lander is created to test photosynthesis and respiration - processes in living organisms that result in the production of energy.

Cotton seedlings are growing in a habitat on the moon.

China's Xinhua news agency said the cylinder canister, made from special aluminum alloy materials, was 198mm tall, 173mm in diameter and weighted 2.6kg. Then, when the lander reached the moon's surface, ground control instructed the mini-biosphere to water the plants and expose them to natural light.

Images sent back by the probe show a cotton plant has grown well, but so far none of the other plants had sprouted, the university said.

China, in turn, shared the time and coordinates of Chang'e 4′s scheduled landing, Wu told reporters during a briefing on the lunar mission.

Giant leaf for mankind? China germinates first seed on moon