The Chinese mission Chang E 4, whose launch is scheduled for later this year, will try to grow plants on the moon, including potatoes and flowers, as part of experiments for future space colonies, reported the official Xinhua news agency.
The craft, which “in an unprecedented event” will try to make a gentle descent on the hidden face of the Moon, will carry a can with potato seeds and arabidopsis, a small plant with flowers of the family of cabbage and mustard, and also, probably, some silkworm eggs to perform the first biological experiment on the Moon.
The container, cylindrical in shape and made of a special aluminum alloy, has a height of 18 centimeters and a weight of three kilos, and inside it will also be water, a solution of nutrients, air and equipment such as small camera and data transmission systems.
The researchers of the “lunar minibiosphere” experiment hope that the seeds will grow and come to bloom on the Moon, in a process that will be recorded by the camera and transmitted to Earth.
Although plants have already been cultivated in space — on the International Space Station and in the Chinese space laboratory Tiangong-2, where the astronauts grew rice and arabidopsis — these experiments were carried out in a low Earth orbit, at a altitude of 400 kilometers.
In contrast, the environment on the Moon, which is at a distance of 380,000 kilometers from Earth, is more complicated, among other things the absence of an atmosphere causes the lunar temperature to between less than 100 degrees below zero and more than 100 over zero.
“We have to keep the temperature in the ‘minibiósfera’ within a range of 1 to 30 degrees, and control humidity and nutrition appropriately, we will use a tube to direct the natural light on the surface of the Moon to the can, in order to make the plants grow,” explained Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment.
Silkworm eggs will also be taken to the moon and the evolution of this biological material will be recorded on video to be controlled from Earth. “We want to study the respiration of seeds and photosynthesis on the Moon,” added Liu Hanlong, director of the mission.
The Chang E program — named after a goddess who, according to Chinese legends, lives on the moon — began with the launch of a first orbital probe in 2007, and four devices have since been taken to the earth’s satellite.
The final objective of the program is a manned mission to the Moon in the long term, although the date for it has not been set and some experts place it around the year 2036.