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First-ever plant sprouted on the moon by China

Illustration of a cotton sprout.

China became the first country to land on the lunar side of the moon when their spacecraft Chang’e-5 landed on January 3rd, 2019. Landing on the far side of the moon was not the only milestone they achieved. China also became the first country to a conduct biological growth experiment in moon.

The spacecraft Chang’e-5, was carrying a mini-biosphere called Lunar Micro Ecosystem (LME) that weigh 2.6 kg. It is a sealed, cylindrical biosphere of 18cm long and 16 cm in diameter. The cylinder contains six life forms – Cotton seeds, Potato seeds, Rape seeds, Yeast, Fruit fly eggs and Arabidopsis thaliana. The cylinder was maintained in earth-like environment except for gravity, radiation and temperature. They tested whether these seeds could grow in moon. Among those six, only cotton seeds showed positive results. The cotton seeds sprout two leaves. The sprout survived for one lunar day which is equivalent to 14 earth-days.  Unfortunately, the sprout died when the temperature of the moon goes down to minus 300 Fahrenheit. This is the first biological growth experiment conducted on the moon.

This work was headed by Xie Gengxin of the Advanced Technology Institute at Chongqing University. China has already planned the next mission, Chang’e-6 which is a sample return mission to the moon in summer 2020.

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