China Planting, Farming Cotton on the Darkside of the Moon. Lunar Colony to Follow Soon
Autonomous robots will tend and harvest the crop, in first large scale commercial exploitation of space.
February 15, 2019
Chinese Space Agency
Chinese scientists have conducted an experiment that suggests that we may eventually be able to use lunar land space to provide food for either inter-planetary travelers or Earth dwellers.
Using a container designed to create a mini-ecosystem, the researchers were successful in having cotton plants sprout. Other plants and fruit fly eggs included in the environment did not respond successfully.
The sprouts died during the course of moon's the two-week-long, -275°F night. Daytime temperatures on the far side of the moon can reach 240°F.
According to the Independent, Liu Hanlong, one of the lead scientists in the group, said: "We have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants' growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base."
The biosphere was kept under watch by two cameras. It included a heat-control system and a tube that redirected the light reflecting from the moon's surface. In an attempt to create a self-sustaining environment, the container included cotton, potato, rapeseed, arabidopsis flowers, yeast and Drosophila (fruit fly) eggs.
With cotton for clothing, rapeseed for oil, and potatoes for food, the selection could lay the basis for a long-term independent base.
The Chongqing University web-page explains: "The plants would generate oxygen and food for other living things to 'consume'. The Drosophila melanogaster, as consumers, and yeast, as decomposers, would generate carbon dioxide by consuming oxygen for photosynthesis of plants. In addition, the yeast can decompose the waste of plants and Drosophila melanogaster and grow, and can also serve as the food of Drosophila melanogaster. With this circle, a mini biosphere comprising producers, consumers, and decomposers is formed."
Although the plants did not survive, it was a big success for the potential future of space agriculture. Plants have been grown on the International Space Station, but that is a much more controlled environment. These tiny little cotton sprouts suggest that, with proper adaptations for temperature, a self-contained environment could be constructed which would continue to flourish without constant human attention.
The mini biosphere was a competition wining University project included on the Chang'e-4 space mission. The Chang'e-4's core purpose is to gather atmospheric information from the far side of the moon.
The Chinese space program seems to be moving forward at a rapid rate.
Chang'e-5 will be launched soon to collect samples from the moon's surface and bring them back to earth, the first such mission since the 1970s.