First plants on moon, China says it has done the job

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China's miniature biosphere experiment has yielded sprouting cotton seeds, and they are the first plants to germinate on the Moon - an important first step in creating a viable, self-sustaining lunar colony.

The breakthrough is a massive leap towards sustainable deep space colonization.

The probe conducted the first-ever soft landing on the dark side of the Moon on January 3 following a 20-day journey from Earth.

Until this experiment, the researchers said they weren't sure it was possible to grow plants in a low gravity environment. It could mean that humans could potentially be sustainable in space without needing resupplies from Earth. Interestingly, the lunar probe has some unusual guests on board, and it includes cotton seeds, fruit fly eggs, and yeast.

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"The plants would generate oxygen and food for other living things to 'consume, '" Chongqing University scientists explained in an online article. Launch payloads could be reduced if crews could grow food during the trip and the photosynthesis process could reduce carbon dioxide, help manage moisture levels within the spacecraft, and of course, produce breathable air.

Weeks later, it's made headlines again, for another world first. "With this circle, a mini biosphere comprising producers, consumers and decomposers is formed", says the Chongqing University page.

The People's Daily, the official state media for China's ruling Communist Party, tweeted a picture of the experiment, and claimed it is "humankind's first biological experiment on the Moon".

China is planning its next moon mission this year to get some more samples and another mission to Mars next year.

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"In the past, we were always rushing to catch up to the advanced global standards" in space, said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China's lunar exploration project. China is also building its own space station called Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace.

Chang'e-5, which will launch at the end of this year, will return a sample from the near side of the Moon.

The Chang'e-7 mission will arrive at the Moon to carry out detailed surveys around the South Pole, including analysis of the landform and terrain and space environment in the region.

Scientists are looking into "whether we can use 3D printing technology" to build lunar facilities, he added.

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