Almost five years ago, the first man took to the moon, marking “a tremendous leap for humanity.” This year, China is sending seeds of plants and insects.
In December, China first probed the Chang’e No. 4 lander and rover on the far side of the moon, potatoes and Arabidopsis – a small flowering plant belonging to the mustard family – and the seed of the silkworm cocoon would take a ride.
China hopes to create a “Mini Moon Biosphere” as part of its study of establishing a lunar base and even long-term survival on the moon.
Plants and insects are contained within an 18-cm high (7-inch) barrel of air, water and soil that will create an ecosystem.
The tin pipelines will guide the natural light from the moon to photosynthesis, and then the plants will release oxygen and once they hatch they will feed the silkworms.
According to scientists from Chongqing University responsible for the project, these insects produce carbon dioxide and waste, which helps the growth of plants.
The team hopes to be able to broadcast (Chinese links) the progress of the organism.
The team said that they chose the potato because it could become the main food source for space travel, and the growth cycle of Arabidopsis is relatively short for easy observation.
However, serious difficulties are waiting. For example, the harsh environment of the Moon poses a challenge for temperature control – the temperature may drop by more than -100°C (-148°F) and the team needs to keep the temperature of the tin between 1 and 30°C.
The experiment will also explore how the gravity of the Moon (about 16% of the Earth) influences the survival of living things. Research shows that microgravity has a negative impact on human health.
Liu Hailong, the project director, did not respond to further questions about the investigation.
Astronauts have used Arabidopsis and lettuce for similar experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) and planted rice at Tiangong-2, the second space laboratory in China. However, Xinhua News Agency pointed out that these experiments were conducted in relatively low Earth orbit, rather than the complex lunar environment.
If successful, China will become the first country to land on the far side of the moon, which is the center of the country’s space ambitions.
It is also committed to a self-sustaining system to support the exploration of spacecraft’s life in space.
The one-year-long experiment will send three groups of students to grow plants and survive through potatoes and beans grown in the hut. It is expected to be completed next month.
But China is growing rapidly in space – for example, after the retirement of ISS in 2024, China may become the only country with a space station in 2022, and NASA’s new space station will not be ready by 2023.