China says it has grown the first-ever plants on the moon on its historic mission to the far side

China grows plants on moonA photo of the sprouts that China grew in a lattice-like structure inside a canister on the moon.CCTV via Reuters/Business Insider

  • China says it has grown the first-ever plants on the moon.
  • Cotton seeds have sprouted in its lunar lander, the Chinese mission said. It marks another first for the country as part of its historic mission to the moon's far side.
  • China also brought seeds for potatoes, rapeseed oil, and other plants, which could produce oxygen, food, and oil.
  • One scientist said it could lead to astronauts being able to feed themselves in space and use the moon as a staging post for trips to places like Mars.

China says it has grown the first-ever plants on the moon as part of its historic mission to the far side.

China landed its Chang'e 4 spacecraft on the moon's far side on January 3, becoming the first nation to do so. It has now achieved another first: having a seed successfully germinate while on the moon.

Sprouts from cotton seeds have emerged from a lattice-like structure inside a metal canister inside the lander.

Xie Gengxin, the scientist who led the design of the experiment, said on Tuesday that it was "the first time humans have done biological growth experiments on the lunar surface," The Guardian reported.

Read more: China releases photos from the first mission to land on the far side of the moon

China grows plants seeds cannisterChongqing University shared a photo of the canister used to grow plants on the moon.Chongqing University

Alongside the cotton seeds were those for potatoes, yeast, rapeseed, and other plants, said scientists at Chongqing University, who led the mission.

They said these plants would oxygen and food for other living things and astronauts to "consume."

Xie said that the cotton could eventually be used to make clothing, the potatoes could be a food source for astronauts, and the rapeseed could produce oil, the South China Morning Post reported.

These plants were chosen because they are small, able to withstand high and low temperatures, and resistant to radiation, the Chongqing University scientists said.

Read more: Humanity's coolest achievements in spaceflight since Apollo 8, from walking on the moon to touching interstellar space

Xie said that the experiment would allow scientists to learn how plants can grow in the "low gravity, strong radiation and natural lighting conditions of the moon," according to the Post.

China dark side of the moon lunar rover tracksChina's Yutu-2 rover, part of its Chang'e 4 lunar mission, rolls across the far side of the moon in January 2019.China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP

Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory's astronomer-at-large, told the BBC that the development was "good news."

"It suggests that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment," he said.

"I think there's certainly a great deal of interest in using the Moon as staging post, particularly for flights to Mars, because it's relatively near the Earth."

Read More: Photos show Chinese lunar rover making tracks on the far side of the moon as it starts its historic exploration mission

China's space agency has said its objective behind its mission to the far side of the moon is to learn more about the area - including about things like mineral composition and the structure of its surface - as well as about the sun, other planets, and the origin of the stars.

The side is often called the "dark" side of the moon, though it is not actually deprived of light. It is called "dark" because humans know much less about it than the side that faces Earth.

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