China grows cotton plant on the moon in biological first
MOON — China successfully grew a plant on the moon in a biological first, IEEE Spectrum reports.
On January 3, China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe made a milestone soft-landing on the far side of the moon.
CNN reports that the spacecraft carried a self-contained biosphere called the Lunar Micro Ecosystem, or LME, that was activated upon landing.
A cotton seed inside the biosphere sprouted two leaves, making it the first living thing humans have grown on the moon.
Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University told IEEE Spectrum that Chinese scientists initially believed the seed grew only one leaf.
But a 3D reconstruction made using image processing and data analysis later revealed there were two.
According to China's state-run Science and Technology Daily, the 2.6-kilogram LME cylinder measured 20 centimeters in length and 17 centimeters in diameter.
Apart from cotton, it also carried potato and arabidopsis seeds, fruit fly eggs, and yeast.
These were all kept in Earth-like conditions except for microgravity and lunar radiation.
Xie told CNN that Chinese scientists had hoped the LME would raise seeds and hatch flies to create a stable biosphere to inform food production on the moon.
Xie said the LME experienced erratic temperature fluctuations, forcing scientists to terminate the experiment and shut down the power.
The shutdown left the seeds and eggs unprotected in the lunar night, when temperatures dropped to a low of minus 190 degrees Celsius, according to the China Daily.
IEEE Spectrum reports the cotton leaves were dead within one lunar daytime, or 14.5 Earth days.
Xie told IEEE Spectrum that the team had wanted to put a small tortoise in the LME to research the effects of the moon's low gravity on animals.
But oxygen inside the craft would have been usable to tortoises for only 20 days.
The tortoise for sure dodged a bullet on this one.