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Humans in Space

China Grows Cotton on the Moon

Discussions about sending humans to the Moon and Mars have brought many challenges waiting to be solved, and among them is how to feed people in space. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been growing and consuming lettuce in space for a few years now, China has achieved a historic event by sprouting cotton seeds on the surface of the Moon. The news and corresponding photos were announced by Chinas government. The seeds were part of a biosphere experiment which, if it performs as intended, will provide helpful data towards the development of sustainable agriculture in environments other than Earth.

China’s Chang’e 4 craft lunar lander arrived January 3, 2019 on the far side of the Moon, and part of its cargo included an aluminum alloy canister equipped with materials necessary for not only plant growth, but a self-sustaining biological environment lead by Chongqing University. Along with cotton seeds, the experiment included rapeseed, potato, and arabidopsis seeds, as well as fruit fly eggs and yeast to form a simple, tiny biosphere. A heat control system and two cameras were also part of the makeup.

Each member of the experiment was chosen with a bioprocess purpose in mind: Potato seeds represented a primary food supply for future space travelers (see also: The Martian), rapeseed could be used to produce oil, cotton seeds for clothing/supply fabric, the fruit fly would act as the consumer, and the yeast could regulate the oxygen and carbon dioxide being exchanged between the fly and the plants. The arabidosposis seeds contribute via its photosynthesis and could be a food source, but the plant is generally considered to be weed with a short growth cycle that could be useful for observation. The seeds and eggs were kept dormant until their lunar arrival, after which time they were watered by the lander. The germination of the cotton seeds alone has not yet been determined or specified by China’s space agency, the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

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