Science & Technology

China’s Moon Seedling

Before I tell you some sad news, can I tell you something spectacular? Sometimes I can feel bummed by the monotony of everyday life. The drudge of schoolwork, the over-commitment to extracurriculars, worrying about assignments I seem to be the only person who hasn’t finished; it can all start to become too much. When these things happen though, it’s important to remember that somewhere out there in the wide world, outside the university bubble we all live in, extra-ordinary things are taking place every second of every day. Recently China did something extra-ordinary and it made my day better. I hope it will make yours better, too.

What magical thing has China done? Only gone and grown a cotton seed on the face of the moon! You know, that uninhabitable wasteland sparkling whitely up in the night sky? That’s the one, and China is about to turn it into a beautiful forest, one seedling at a time.

The Chang’e 4 Mission is behind this historic achievement, and researches at the Chongqing University announced the news with photos of the baby plant in action. The seed was transported to the moon along with several other seeds, some yeast, and fruit fly eggs. These are contained in a sealed metal cylinder which has its own light source and a water feeding tube.  This experiment is being carried out to see if a self-contained ecosystem can exist off of planet Earth – the plants will produce oxygen, and the yeast and flies will consume the oxygen to produce carbon dioxide for the plants to use, in a cycle as old as… well maybe not time but certainly as old as photosynthesis and biotic cells!

This first seedling was spotted on January 7, four days after the Chiang’e lunar lander reached the “far side” of the moon. Obviously, this was an occasion for much excitement – if we can grow things in that strange wasteland, we can grow things anywhere!

The excitement, however, became short-lived when it was recently reported that the frigid night temperatures of the moon’s surface – down to -173°C – were too much for the plant. It died and hasn’t shown itself again.

Now, you may feel disheartened by this news, and in fact I was nearly devastated, but next time, they’ll provide temperature control, and if it fails again, well that’s how scientific progress works! We have to fail before we get things right! And don’t be too sad, this may be the first plant grown on the moon, but it isn’t the first plant grown in space. Way back in 2010, astronauts had already grown lettuce, zinnias and more on the Space Station. It could be argued that growing food in spaceships is even more important than growing food on the moon – growing food means you don’t need to bring as much with you on long trips. Just think of the possibilities out there in the universe if we can grow things IN SPACE!

So, yes, I baited you with some exciting news, only to bum you out with some sad tidings. However, this is not the last you’ll hear about this story I am sure! Keep innovating, we’ll catch up again soon!

Leave a Reply