China launched its Chang’e 4 Project which explores the quality of soil on the moon for growing plants.
In an interview with engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum, project leader for the experiment Xie Gengxin explained more about the challenges of growing plants in the restricted environment. “The weight of the Chang’e-4 probe demanded that the weight [of the experiment] can’t exceed three kilograms,” he said. That’s why it was important to select the biological samples in the experiment carefully.
The team selected five species of biological organisms to send to the moon: cotton seeds, potato seeds, Arabidopsis seeds, yeast, and fruit-fly eggs. Sadly, most of these died quickly except for the cotton seeds. They sprouted and grew with two leaves! The cotton’s life, however, lasted only for one lunar day which is equivalent to two weeks here on Earth due to several atmospheric restraints.
During the lunar night, the temperatures on the moon drop dramatically, and without external heating, the organisms were doomed by the cold. But in order to test whether the equipment could survive, the Chinese scientists continued the experiment for several months.
Originally, the team wanted to include animals in their experiment but did not proceed because of the limited availability of oxygen on the moon. However, the team plans to send more complex organisms for future experiments on the moon.
Photo from the Chongqing University