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Can China Plant Vegetables on the Moon? Here's What the Lunar Soil Samples Reveal

By: Buzz Staff

News18.com

Last Updated: December 21, 2020, 12:53 IST

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

This isn't China's first try to grow plants on the moon: In 2019, Chang’e 4, a Chinese spacecraft that had landed, in a historic first, on the far side of the moon, the side that never turns toward Earth. The seeds came with the environment for growth: water, air, soil, and a heating system for warmth.

China has successfully retrieved lunar samples - and now begins the part of discoveries hidden in the soil.

The samples of rock and soil from the moon have successfully landed on Earth for the first time in over four decades.

Chang’e-5 lunar mission has successfully landed back on Earth with lunar samples onboard, making China only the third country to have ever collected lunar samples, and also the first one in 44 years after Russia achieved this feat in its unmanned Luna 24 mission back in 1976. The achievement harks back to the space race of the 1960s and 1970s, which led to unprecedented achievements made by both Russia and USA in space missions.

But what do the moon samples reveal?

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No farming in sight — for now. Unlike the organic soil on earth, the soil from the moon does not contain any organic nutrients and is very dry, which is neither suitable for growing vegetables nor potatoes," Zhu Guangquan, a CCTV anchor, said via a video posted on the Sina Weibo account of CCTV on Saturday, quoting scientists, reports The Global Times.

However, although the soil on the moon cannot grow vegetables, it can be used in other ways. The long-term solar wind injected a large amount of helium-3 into the lunar soil, which can be used as clean energy and generating electricity through thermonuclear fusion, according to the video posted by CCTV.

Growing in space, however, isn’t a far-off possibility: It is possible in space, and this wasn’t China’s first attempt to grow on the moon.

In early January 2019, cotton seeds on Chang’e 4, a Chinese spacecraft that had landed, in a historic first, on the far side of the moon, the side that never turns toward Earth. The seeds came with the environment for growth: water, air, soil, and a heating system for warmth. Huddled together, the seedlings resembled a miniature, deep-green forest. A hint of life on a barren world.

And then, about a week later, they all died, reported The Atlantic. China’s experiment had however, marked the first time biological matter has been grown on the moon.

NASA, however, has managed to grow crops in space, not on the moon, but on the International Space Center.

The Vegetable Production System, known as Veggie, is a space garden residing on the space station. Veggie’s purpose is to help NASA study plant growth in microgravity, while adding fresh food to the astronauts’ diet and enhancing happiness and well-being on the orbiting laboratory. The Veggie garden is about the size of a carry-on piece of luggage and typically holds six plants.

The pillows are important to help distribute water, nutrients and air in a healthy balance around the roots. Otherwise, the roots would either drown in water or be engulfed by air because of the way fluids in space tend to form bubbles.

In the absence of gravity, plants use other environmental factors, such as light, to orient and guide growth. A bank of light emitting diodes (LEDs) above the plants produces a spectrum of light suited for the plants’ growth.

To date, Veggie has successfully grown a variety of plants, including three types of lettuce, Chinese cabbage, mizuna mustard, red Russian kale and zinnia flowers, shared NASA in a detailed segment on growing plants in space.

The Global Times also reported that the lunar samples will be divided into three parts for different purposes, CNSA deputy head Wu Yanhua said. Labs for scientific research will receive some, while the other two will be displayed in national museums for the public’s education and shared with the international community in accordance with lunar data management regulations. They could even be given as special gifts to countries that work closely with China on aerospace matters.

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first published:December 21, 2020, 12:53 IST
last updated:December 21, 2020, 12:53 IST