This 3D reconstruction shows cotton leaves growing in China's Chang's 4-lander on the other side of the moon for the first time growing cotton on the moon. The experiment was part of the Chang'e 4 project, with China exploring the other side of the moon with a lander. This is the same lander that recently discovered a mysterious gel-like substance on the lunar surface.
The cotton plant was one of several organisms that were trapped in a 2.6-kilogram mini biosphere at 1
atmosphere pressure on board the lander. The organisms experienced an environment that was largely similar to Earth, but had to deal with both space radiation and microgravity.
In an interview with the IEEE Spectrum engineering magazine, Xie Gengxin's project manager explained more about the challenges of growing plants in the restricted environment. "The weight of the Chang's e-4 probe required that the weight [of the experiment] not exceed three kilograms," he said. For this reason, it was important to carefully select the biological samples in the experiment.
In the end, the team chose five types of biological organisms to be sent to the Moon: cottonseed, potato seeds, Arabidopsis seeds, yeast, and fruit. flying eggs. Most of these died quickly, but the cottonseeds sprouted and grew not just one, but two leaves. Although plants have been bred on the International Space Station, this experiment is the first time a plant has been bred on the moon.
Despite the efforts of Hardy Cotton, however, the leaves died within a lunar day, which is equivalent to two weeks here on Earth. During the moonlit night, the temperatures on the moon drop dramatically and without external warming the organisms were doomed to failure by the cold. To test whether the equipment can survive, the Chinese scientists continued the experiment for several months.
Originally the team wanted to send animals including a small turtle as part of the experiment. However, this idea had to be discarded due to the limited availability of oxygen. "Although it makes sense to choose turtles, the turtle payload's oxygen can only be used for about 20 days," said Xie.
In future experiments, Xie and his team want to send more complex organisms, including animals, to the Moon. You may get a chance on China's Chang'e 6 mission, which is scheduled for the early 2020s.