China grew a plant on the moon — it sprouted two leaves, data indicates

China became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. As part of its mission, the Chang'e-4 lunar rover carried a small biosphere containing six lifeforms, including cotton seeds. Using data from the biosphere experiment, researchers generated a virtual simulation of the cotton plant, indicating that it grew two leaves before succumbing to the cold.

China achieved history by landing its Chang'e-4 spacecraft on the moon's far side. The mission was also the first to experiment with growing plants on the moon, and it delivered to the lunar surface a mini-biosphere known as the Lunar Micro Ecosystem (LME). With the exception of microgravity and cosmic radiation, the conditions within this tight, cylindrical biosphere were similar to those on Earth. The LME contained the following:

potato seeds

cotton seedlings



fruit fly eggs

A common weed is  Arabidopsis thaliana.

Except for cotton, all of these plants died quickly. According to a recent 3D reconstruction, the cotton plant sprouted two leaves before succumbing to frigid circumstances after around two weeks. The results show that the experiment was slightly more successful than expected.

Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University's Advanced Technology Research Institute, the experiment's leader, has no plans to publish any scientific articles based on this research. He does, however, intend to continue investigating how various lifeforms could be able to survive on the moon.


If NASA or other space organisations wish to perform long-term missions, they must discover how to nurture plants in space on a constant basis.

“Simply packing some multi-vitamins will not be enough to keep astronauts healthy as they explore deep space,” NASA wrote. “They will need fresh produce.”

Why? Some reasons are just logistical. The nutrients in supplements and prepared meals, for example, can degrade with time, and radiation may hasten this process. Growing fresh veggies would supply astronauts with greater nourishment and more flavorful food. Furthermore, if astronauts could grow plants in space, they would not need to bring as much prepared food with them.

However, there are psychological advantages to growing plants in space.

“We already know from our pioneering astronauts that fresh flowers and gardens on the International Space Station create a beautiful atmosphere and let us take a little piece of Earth with us on our journeys,” NASA wrote. “They’re good for our psychological well-being on Earth and in space.”

NASA is also interested in making eating in space more enjoyable for astronauts. For example, on recent trips, the agency prepared comfort food and holiday dinners, and it performed study on astronauts’ preferences for group vs solo dining, as well as whether they benefit from cooking their own food. Other academics are investigating how astronauts’ emotional requirements might be met through space dining, as well as how to counteract room problems such as loss of smell.

“At the end of the day, we’re not worried about the muscle cells,” NASA nutritionist Scott Smith told Eater. “We’re worried about the human.”

Reference(s): Eater, NASA


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