Chinese engineer demonstrates how humans could grow flowers and vegetables on the moon 

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This week at London’s Design Museum, one of the engineers behind the historic Chang’e-4 mission to the moon gave a demonstration of the spacecraft’s ‘mini-biosphere’ where he and his team helped germinate the first seed ever on the moon.

The presentation, delivered by Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University, was part of the museum’s ‘Moving to Mars’ exhibit showcasing a range of different technologies that will allow humans to survive long term in space and on other planets.

While previous groups had grown small plants on the International Space Station, which is in orbits the Earth some 250 miles above the surface, no one had yet accomplished the feat on the moon.

Xie and his team devised a cylindrical garden capsule to try and bring gardening deeper into outer space. 

The capsule stood around 8 inches tall with a 6.5 inch diameter and had a rectangular seed bed that was loaded with cotton, potato, rape seeds, a variety of weed called Arabidopsis, and fruit fly eggs.

A pipe was built into the top of the capsule to let sunlight in, and an irrigation system allowed the team to keep the seeds watered at regular intervals.

The atmospheric pressure inside the cylinder matched that on Earth, and they used special cooling equipment to keep the internal temperature around 98°farenheit. (External temperatures on the moon could reach highs of 260°farenheit.)

The team used two built-in cameras to photograph the seeds progress every 10 hours and track their development.

Their history-making moment came after a few days, when the cotton seed sprouted two leaves and, strangely, its roots grew out sideways rather than straight down.

The team was able to keep the plant alive for nine Earth days, or about 1/3 of a ‘moon day,’ before they eventually let it die as night fell. (A full day on the moon lasts the equivalent of 29 Earth days.)

On the moon, nighttime temperatures can go as low as -279°farenheit. 

The team was thrilled by the accomplishment, both because of its logistical significance and its potential to lend emotional comfort to travelers who might eventually grow homesick in space.

‘If astronauts or space tourists can breathe oxygen generated by plants and see living, green things in space, it’s sure to raise their spirits,’ Xie told New Scientist.

 

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