China's moon lander sprouted a plant, but now it's dead

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China has announced ambitious new plans in space, including building a base on the Moon and sending a probe to Mars. The ability to grow food and other resources in space could help to decrease the amount of cargo astronauts need to bring with them.

Worldwide discussions about sending humans to the Moon and Mars have brought many challenges waiting to be solved, and among them is food supply.

It is popularly called the "dark side" because it can not be seen from Earth and is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight. While 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 milestone by sprouting cotton seeds on the surface of the Moon. And even the cotton plant is looking pretty peaky compared to seedlings in a control setup the scientists established on Earth.

The Chang'e 4 is the first mission to land on and explore the Moon's far side, facing away from Earth.

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The cotton seeds were the first to sprout according to Professor Liu Hanlong, the head of the experiment. "Learning about these plants' growth in a low gravity environment would allow us to lay foundation for our future establishment of (a) space base". "We have given consideration to future survival in space", he said. Inside you'll find soil, yeast, fruit fly and silkworm eggs, as well as cotton, potato, tomato, and (flowering) thale cress seeds. Scientists from Sweden, Germany and China are involved in the making of the instruments required for Chang'e 4 to study the lunar environment, cosmic radiation and interaction between solar wind and the moon's surface. Chongqing University calls the experiment a "lunar mini biosphere". For example, potatoes serve as a good source and can make rapeseed oil which is similar to canola oil.

China's ambitions for space and lunar exploration aren't limited to the current mission.

Chang'e-4 made its historic landing on January 3 after three weeks in lunar orbit, and the mission lander and rover have begun testing science payloads, taking images and roving around the landing area.

The journey took more than 20 days, and scientists at the China National Space Administration spent two months doing final checks before sending it into space.

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