Professor Xie Gengxin, the Chinese scientist in charge of the lunar plant experiment, said if successful, the project would signal that China was catching up in space exploration. It successfully deployed the Jade Rabbit 2 rover and has now once again made history by sprouting the first seedling on the moon.
The Chang'e 4 mission is equipped with 13 payloads, including four scientific payloads jointly developed by scientists from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Saudi Arabia and China.
It is the first time a soft landing has been performed on the Moon's far side - also known as the dark side because it faces away from Earth and remains comparatively unknown - due to challenges relaying signals.
Cotton plants have been seen budding and growing, as shown by this close-up of the plants sprouting under a protective cover on the Chang'e 4 lunar lander.
The far side has been observed many times from lunar orbits, but never explored on the surface. In the container, the organisms have air, water, nutrients, and a controlled temperature and humidity that is allowing them to grow.
Pictures sent back January 12 showed plant shoots growing well nine days after the experiment was initiated, Chongqing University, which led the biological project, said in a briefing Tuesday.
Self-sustaining habitable environments for off-planet travel have been part of scientific research for decades, including a famous large-scale experiment conducted nearly 30 years ago called Biosphere 2 (Earth is Biosphere 1). The temperature can range from -173C to 100C. The plants produced oxygen and food by photosynthesis and sustained the fruit flies. We could probably make some nice sweaters from moon-grown cotton. By having a supply base on the moon, space travel to Mars and beyond could become easier.
According to Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the development represented a step in the right direction.
It is hoped the experiment will pave the way for long-term space exploration and provide astronauts with the means to grown their own crops, à la Damon.
The State Council Information Office of China (SCIO) held a press conference Monday (Jan. 14) to discuss that epic touchdown, and to give an overview of the nation's future activities on Earth's nearest neighbor.