Plant shoots grow on far side of Moon

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Photos released on Tuesday by Chongqing University, in collaboration with the China National Space Administration, show the small, green shoot from a cotton seed reaching out of a latticed container aboard the probe Chang'e-4, named after the Chinese lunar goddess. According to the BBC, the sprouts are part of an ongoing experiment to test photosynthesis and respiration.

According to China's state-run Xinhua news agency, ground control center instructed the probe to begin watering the plants after Chang'e-4 landed on the far side of the moon on January 3. Aside from Russian Federation and the United States, it is the only other country to reach the moon.

The seeds sent aboard the Chinese lander each have specific roles to play in a future colony: potatoes are calorie-dense and a resilient food source, cotton could help produce clothing, and the rapeseed plants could be a source of oil.

First, it's a wolf moon, a traditional name for full moons in winter.

The space agency plans to launch a Chang'e-5 mission at the end of 2019 with the goal of collecting samples from the near side of the moon, Wu said. "Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night", said Professor Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University and the chief designer of the experiment.

Chang'e 4 is also equipped with instruments developed by scientists from Sweden, Germany and China to study the lunar environment, cosmic radiation and the interaction between solar wind and the moon's surface.

Once the probe landed, the Chinese space agency sent it a signal to begin watering the seeds.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shared its glee on Twitter, saying, "China's moon mission success means that astronauts could potentially harvest their own food in space!" The experiment is contained within an 18 cm, 3 kg (7 lbs.) canister designed by 28 universities in China.

According to Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the development represented a step in the right direction.

"China will carry out its first-ever exploration mission to Mars around 2020", Wu told the reporters on Monday.

The probe is shown adjusting its altitude, speed and pitch as it seeks to avoid obstacles on the ground.

The pioneering landing highlights China's ambitions to rival the US, Russia and Europe in space through manned flights and the planned construction of a permanent space station.

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