Well, that certainly didn’t take long.
Barely a day after the Chinese government released tantalizing photos of the first ever plants to grow on the moon, the tender green cotton, potato and rapeseed plants have shriveled up and died mere days after they sprouted.
Even The Mind Unleashed was caught up in the excitement Tuesday, dreaming as we were of lunar bases filled with lush gardens and Earth-like biospheres.
While the fact that the seeds sprouted remains quite an achievement, it appears that the climate-controlled “moon surface micro-ecological vessels” within which the plants had grown, proved quite insufficient in terms of coping with the frigid lunar nights, where temperatures are far too cold for such life to survive.
The Chang’e 4 lunar probe had carried a biological payload that included seeds of rock cress, potato and cotton, as well as rapeseed, yeast and fruit fly pupa. Researchers used biotech methods to render the seeds and eggs dormant for two months while the probe underwent its final checks in the test center before being launched on its 20-day mission through space, before finally landing on the far side of the moon on January 3rd.
The probe began watering the plants shortly after landing, while a tube directed natural sunlight into the vessels to allow them to grow. By Saturday, researchers were reporting that the cotton, rapeseed and potato sprouts were in good health.
“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,” lead researcher Professor Liu Hanlong noted.
However, the Chang’e 4 probe entered “sleep mode” on Sunday as the first lunar after the probe landed finally fell, plunging temperatures down as low as minus 338 degrees Fahrenheit (or 170 degrees Celsius).
“Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night,” Professor Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment, told Xinhua News Agency.
China National Space Administration (CNSA) officials are stressing that while the experiment has ended and the organic matter will gradually decompose, the canister remains totally enclosed and won’t contaminate the lunar environment.
While the outcome of the experiment may seem regretful, such setbacks are inevitable in the process of scientific experimentation.
So let’s give a big round of applause to the Chang’e 4 team!