This marks the first time that humans have conducted a biological experiment on the moon’s surface and the first time that any biological matter has grown on the moon — at least that we know of.
The experiment was designed by researchers at Chongqing University. It involves an 18-centimeter container holding a mini-biosphere of air, water, and soil, as well as cotton seeds, potato seeds, arabidopsis seeds, yeast, and fruit fly eggs. On Tuesday, Chinese media released photos of the cotton seeds sprouting, so far, none of the other plants have followed suit.
#BREAKING The latest released experimental picture shows that cotton seeds carried on the Chang'e-4 probe have sprouted, marking the first biological experiment on the lunar surface #ChangE4 pic.twitter.com/6bMXH3dVT0
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) January 15, 2019
On January 3rd, the Chang’e-4 became the first craft to ever land on the far side of the moon. Tasked with carrying out geological tests and taking photos as well as this biological experiment, already the China National Space Administration has declared the probe’s mission a complete success.
The landing is a milestone for China’s fledgling space program, marking the first time that China has completed a significant space mission that was not already performed previously by the US or Russia. China has big ambitions of becoming a comparable top-tier space power with plans to send a crewed mission to the moon (the last one came in 1972) and to establish a research base there someday.
Such a base would likely rely on seeds being grown on the moon by astronauts, reducing the need for costly resupplies.