China made history as the first spacecraft to visit that part of the moon. It took with it a 2.6kg greenhouse dubbed the Lunar Micro Ecosystem.
Sealed and cylindrical, the LME carried with it six types of lifeform: cotton, potato, and rape seeds. Yeast, fruit fly eggs and Arabidopsis thaliana, a common weed.The cotton seeds proved hardy enough to grow in the biosphere, with data suggesting that it sprouted two leaves.
Unfortunately, the cotton buds did not meet a happy end. The LME was unheated, and so after the first lunar day (approximately 14 earth days) temperatures plunged to minus 190-celcius, instantly killing the organisms within.
The experiment was a preliminary effort to test the feasibility of growing plants on Earth’s natural satellite. The lunar surface is rich in material that can be used to produce water, oxygen, and even fuel for space missions, but sustaining any kind of human presence on the Moon would require that travelers have the ability to produce their own food.
If humanity could successfully grow vegetables on the Moon, it would be a huge step towards a sustainable existence, and China’s experiment was a small step towards that and other loftier goals.
This plant pod was just one of several experiments and scientific efforts China is undertaking with the Chang’e 4 mission, and its rover is still exploring the far side of the Moon. The ‘grand finale’ of the Chang’e program will be the return of samples of the lunar surface by the Chang’e 5 mission.