China launches plans for Moon missions, base, Mars probe

Potatoes could be a main source food for space explorers, cotton could be used for clothing, and rapeseed could be a source of oil, Liu said.

All plants were chosen because they are small but hardy plants that can grow in a confined, tough environment.

However, plants have successfully been grown on the global Space Station (ISS).

The far side of the moon - the side which faces away from Earth - posed a challenge for scientists because it is beyond radio signals' reach. While plants and flowers have grown on the International Space Station earlier too, this is the first time a seed sprouted on the Moon.

Chang'e 4 touched down on the far side of the moon on 3 January with equipment, and a rover meant to explore the moon's surface and to conduct the biological growth experiments.

Although only the picture of the cotton sprouts was released by the space agency, Professor Hanlong said that rapeseed and potato seeds were sprouting.

In a development that will likely have huge implications for the future of space travel, China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander successfully managed to plant and sprout cotton seeds on the Moon. "Learning about these plants' growth in a low gravity environment would allow us to lay foundation for our future establishment of (a) space base". These tiny seeds are enclosed in a sealed container on the Chang'e 4 lander, and these crops could eventually form a self-sustaining biosphere on the moon.

The cotton along with potato seed, fruit-fly eggs, arabidopsis - a small, flowering plant of the mustard family - and yeast landed on the moon January 3 aboard the Chang'e 4 lander. China set up a relay satellite in May to receive communication from Chang'e 4.

China's ambitions for space and lunar exploration aren't limited to the current mission.

Another payload on the lander, the Lunar Lander Neutrons and Dosimetry (LND) instrument developed in Germany, will also provide data relevant to future human exploration of the Moon. We could probably make some nice sweaters from moon-grown cotton.

"Experts are still discussing and verifying the feasibility of subsequent projects, but it's confirmed that there will be another three missions after Chang'e 5", said Wu.

Wu also revealed that China will send a probe to Mars around 2020.

  • Essie Rivera