China's Chang'e-4 spacecraft made history when it landed on the far side of the Moon on January 3,but this may be the first in a string of landmark achievements for China's National Space Administration. It says a sealed container carried aboard the lander has given rise to the first ever seedlings to sprout on the Moon, marking tiny but important progress in its plans to establish a lunar base by 2022.
The Chang'e-4 mission's science objectives are varied, including conducting pioneering radio astronomy from the Moon's far side, scouting its uncharted areas for signs of water and uncovering ancient secrets about how the satellite was formed.
Also packed aboard the Chang'e-4 spacecraft before it was fired into space on December 8 was a capsule prepared by scientists at Chongqing University containing an important biological growth experiment. Through it, the researchers hope to learn more about how plants develop in the low gravity, high radiation and wildly fluctuating temperatures of the lunar environment.
To investigate this, the team packed seedlings for cotton, potato, rapeseed, and thale cress plants, along with yeast and fruit fly eggs. It was hoped that the fruit flies and yeast, as consumers and decomposers, could consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide, which the plants could then use for photosynthesis to create a miniature biosphere inside a sealed container on the Moon.
These species were chosen carefully by the team, as they believed they had the best chance of enduring the harsh lunar conditions. And after ground control instructed the spacecraft to water the plants and kickstart the experiment, they found some success, according to the Communist Party of China's official newspaper, the People's Daily.
It appears the success was short-lived, however, with Beijing's Xinhua News Agency reporting the experiment had already come to an end less than 24 hours later. It says according to the China National Space Administration, the organisms will now gradually decompose inside the container and won't contaminate the lunar environment. They seeds may now be dead, but they will still provide scientists with plenty of food for thought.