While astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been growing and consuming lettuce in space for a few years now, China has achieved a historic milestone by sprouting cotton seeds on the surface of the Moon. The ability of plants to grow in space is seen as a crucial element for long-term space missions and for establishing human outposts in the solar system like Mars.
Chinese media outlets say one of the cotton seeds carried to the moon by China's Chang'e-4 probe has sprouted.
While the cotton seeds were the first to pop through, rapeseed and potato seeds have also begun to sprout, with those images expected to be released in the coming weeks.
"Although it is a biological payload, it laid a foundation and technological support for our next step, that is, to build a lunar base for living", said Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the biological experiment payload, Chang'e-4 lunar mission.
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After Chang'e-5 returns lunar rocks from the surface the next mission, China will launch Chang'e-6 to bring samples back from the south pole of the moon.
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China's successful lunar germination suggests "there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment", Fred Watson, an astronomer-at-large with Australian Astronomical Observatory, told the BBC.
Camera IconIn this photo provided January 12, 2019, by the China National Space Administration via Xinhua News Agency, the lunar lander of the Chang'e-4 probe is seen in a photo taken by the rover Yutu-2 on January 11, 2019.
Inside are cotton, arabidopsis - a small, flowering plant of the mustard family - and potato seeds, as well as fruit-fly eggs and yeast. It also deployed a mini-rover called Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2, to explore the surrounding terrain on the moon.
The idea is that the plants produce oxygen and food for the fruit flies.
The state-run China Daily said that was the first such form of cooperation since the 2011 USA law was enacted.
The Chang'e-5 mission will collect samples from the near side of the moon at the end of the year while another probe will be sent to Mars by 2020, the deputy head of China's space administration, Wu Yanhua, wrote in an official transcript online.