back to article RIP 2019-2019: The first plant to grow on the Moon? Yeah, it's dead already, Chinese admit

The budding cotton seed hailed as the first plant to ever grow on the Moon, has, erm, died. Xinhua, China’s state owned press agency, announced the unfortunate news merely hours after celebrating the plant’s successful germination. “The experiment has ended,” it said. Maybe it's not that surprising, considering, the picture …

  1. Graham Dawson
    Boffin

    while I'm not sure why they thought it had any chance of surviving, it remains a fact that you never know if you never try. Science in a nutshell.

    Or a tin can, I suppose.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Mushroom

      I'm not sure why they thought it had any chance of surviving

      I'll bet those horrible fruit flies survive. Ghastly things, and the Chinese want to infest space with them?

      1. Andy 66

        Highly unlikely

        Noone on Earth can get Drosophila embros into storage like vertebrate embroys. Hence why the good guys at Bloomington stock center do a stirling job of turning live Drosophila stocks every month to provide the world with the mutants.

        That said given that a Drosophila embryo hatches into a larva after 24h, I’m guessing they are in fact unfertilised eggs and not embroys given that the mission was unmanned...

    2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      while I'm not sure why they thought it had any chance of surviving

      I'd be very surprised if they thought it would survive.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        They knew that the plants would not survive. It was a simple and interesting experiment to see if plants would be ok with the 1/6 gravity. Longer tests will be needed to see how different plants will grow and whether food stuffs can be cultivated from Earth stock or if mutated varieties will need to be cobbled together so lunar colonists can feed themselves and catapult tons of wheat each day to India.

  2. cirby

    Bad planning

    They should have sent a kudzu vine.

    By this time next year, it would have covered the place.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Bad planning

      That needs a million upvotes. Impossible to kill and really has no use.

      1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: Bad planning

        Impossible to kill and really has no use.

        Kudzu has plenty of uses, which is why it is established as an invasive species in the US. It is great for controlling erosion, has a number of uses as food and animal fodder, and is a source of fiber for use in textiles and paper. The problem isn't the plant lacking utility so much as that few in the US make use of it.

        1. Tikimon Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Bad planning

          "Kudzu has plenty of uses, which is why it is established as an invasive species in the US."

          Typical of humans, kudzu was introduced to the US specifically as an erosion control measure without any pre-distribution testing. Controls erosion? Good enough! The government actually paid farmers to plant it, and it was called Creeping Roosevelt by many. Also Mile-A-Minute Vine.

          Sorry spud, the problem isn't that this wonder plant is lying around ignored. Industrial use of any plant typically requires it's farmed somewhere you can collect it. The PROBLEM is that there's a patch here, some there, over there, not convenient to collect for business use. In the meantime, it's burying land and and killing trees, and it's growing up to three feet a day in summer. Maybe one could farm it for products, but the random patches eating the South don't count and are simply a pest.

    2. STOP_FORTH

      Re: Bad planning

      Spider plants? Thrive on neglect.

      1. 5p0ng3b0b

        Re: Bad planning

        Had to throw out my dead spider plant just before xmas. Surely the only living thing on the planet having any real chance of surviving the lunar night has to be Theresa May.

        1. Chloe Cresswell

          Re: Bad planning

          I'd need evidence of "living" when it comes to the maybot.

          1. Mycho Silver badge

            Re: Bad planning

            Theresa May seems to take a lot of fertiliser from all sides.

            1. annodomini2

              Re: Bad planning

              Theresa May seems to take a lot of fertiliser from all sides.

              Shit sticks to shit, who'd have thought.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Bad planning

                She wanted a "hostile environment" and now she seems to have got it!

                1. phuzz Silver badge
                  Thumb Up

                  Re: Bad planning

                  "She wanted a "hostile environment" and now she seems to have got it!"

                  Bravo! I'm stealing that :)

          2. Swiss Anton

            Re: Bad planning

            A robot, no matter how badly designed, could be that bad. It hurts my professional pride that Maybot, in anyway, could be likened to something any human, sane or insane, could devise.

        2. VinceH Silver badge

          Re: Bad planning

          "Surely the only living thing on the planet having any real chance of surviving the lunar night has to be Theresa May."

          This calls for a suitable mission to be arranged forthwith in order to test your hypothesis. How do we get this done?

          It might also be a good idea to send the opposition leader as well, for comparison.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: Bad planning

            I'm not sure that such a small number would really give a scientifically useful result. I mean, you have one control in there but he's widely suspected to be a fruitcake, and you know how long your grans inedible fruitcake lasts. I'm sure that would survive being frozen and baked without becoming less edible.

            Clearly the control group needs to be of a reasonable size. So, the entire commons, plus any member of a political party sitting in the house of lords?

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Chris G Silver badge

              Re: Bad planning

              "plus any member of a political party sitting in the house of lords?"

              I may need new glasses, I read that as 'the house of turds'!

              1. Kiwi Silver badge

                Re: Bad planning

                "plus any member of a political party sitting in the house of lords?"

                I may need new glasses, I read that as 'the house of turds'!

                Pretty sure you read it right.

            3. quxinot

              Re: Bad planning

              >Clearly the control group needs to be of a reasonable size. So, the entire commons, plus any member of a political party sitting in the house of lords?

              From the other side of the big water, we can cheerfully loan you a big pile of congressmen and senators.

              You know, just to increase the statistical accuracy.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Bad planning

            How do we get this done?

            Calling Elon Musk! Calling Elon Musk!

            Stick May and Corbyn in a car, Musk already knows how to fling it into space. But what if the OP hypothesis was correct, and May could survive in the cold, friendless darkness on the far side of the moon? The Chinese might inadvertently bring her back.

            I say set co-ordinates for the Sun.

            1. Tigra 07 Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: Bad planning

              "How do we get this done?

              Calling Elon Musk! Calling Elon Musk!"

              I fail to see how calling the astronauts paedophiles will help...

            2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

              Re: Bad planning

              Stick May and Corbyn in a car, Musk already knows how to fling it into space. But what if the OP hypothesis was correct, and May could survive in the cold, friendless darkness on the far side of the moon?

              The really frightening hypothesis would be them both surviving, and in the loneliness and the long, long nights, one thing leading to another... well, I'm sure you get the idea. We might want to get ready to nuke the moon from orbit . Only way to be sure, all that sort of things.

              1. Peter2 Silver badge

                Re: Bad planning

                So, use a Tesla again, and then use an Orion drive? Obviously a very early proof of concept wouldn't need the pusher plate or shielding just to see if it works. :/

        3. Kiwi Silver badge

          Re: Bad planning

          "Surely the only living thing on the planet having any real chance of surviving the lunar night has to be Theresa May.
          "

          Something that cold and unforgiving? Are you sure the lunar night could survive her?

    3. I.S.

      Re: Bad planning

      Clearly what the Krynoid was based on.

      Lets just hope that the Chinese don't bring anything back.

      The Krynoid scared the shit out of me as a kid, I still can't stand ivy unless it is on fire.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bad planning

      I wonder if Arctic vegetation would survive longer. Although, the point may have been to ensure that those plants didn't survive.

  3. cam
    Trollface

    Should have watched a few episodes of the Beachgrove Garden. Decades of gardening in sub-zero temperatures (October to April). Amateurs.

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Today we're growing tatties and neaps to demonstrate the uptake of Helium-3 by plants on the marginally-more-hostile-than-Aberdeen environment of the moon. Today's temperature is a touch fresh at -120C so frost may be a wee problem and germination may be slow but luckily there's no chance of windchill to undermine my sporran. ...

      1. Tenkaykev
        Thumb Up

        I used to run with a Glaswegian lad, he was as tough as old boots and if any of the group complained about the cold his stock response was to remark that it was " Like July in Aberdeen "

  4. ThatOne Silver badge
    WTF?

    Puzzled

    I don't really see how they hoped anything could survive 14 days of total darkness with temperatures more than twice as cold as anything earth has to offer. Clearly the probe could not provide energy to keep the canister warm and illuminated for those two weeks with no sunlight, apparently it hasn't even enough energy reserves to power itself during the lunar night. So, what was this "mini biosphere" thing all about? When the next lunar day comes, everything in that canister will be (very) deep frozen. Do they hope to thaw and revive those seeds and eggs somehow? I'm intrigued.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Puzzled

      Original purpose of going to the moon = prove Merkin capitalism is better than rooskie communism (or to prove that our Germans are better than their Germans)

      Purpose of this lander = to get some publicity and make people think of China as the next scientific (and commercial/military) superpower and not just somewhere that makes cheap knock-off sneakers.

      What can you do on the moon that the facebook generation would give a tweet about ?

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Puzzled

        "What can you do on the moon that the facebook generation would give a tweet about"

        video games and pr0n ? Or, anything that's self-serving and/or hedonistic, as long as it fits on a 4-inch screen...

        1. poohbear

          Re: Puzzled

          Drive around with a blindfold on?

          1. holmegm

            Re: Puzzled

            "Drive around with a blindfold on?"

            If you must do, the moon is probably the best place for that ...

    2. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Puzzled

      There is probably no terrestrial plant that can handle that (aside from perhaps Antarctic lichens, but they aren't plants, strictly speaking). In northern latitudes, many plants survive winter, but the temperatures never get as low as in the lunar night, and they prepare for it during the summer and autumn: drop leaves and pump valuable stuff to roots like most trees do, or it is only the root system that survives.

      Seeds might survive, but in the Chinese experiment these apparently had already germinated.

      So their can is full of totally dead things by Lunar morning.

      1. Jay Lenovo Silver badge

        Re: Puzzled

        The moon is still very much what we thought it was, inhospitable.

        I don't envy the hoopla of being the first to foster the Moon's first dead visitors.

        .

      2. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: Puzzled

        "So their can is full of totally dead things by Lunar morning."

        Honestly, what will be interresting is if there will be anything that actually survives this. We should continue watching this.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Puzzled

        There is probably no terrestrial plant that can handle that

        Japanese knotweed.

        In a battle of knotweed versus the moon I'll put my money on the knotweed.

        1. Chris G Silver badge

          Re: Puzzled

          "There is probably no terrestrial plant that can handle that"

          The fecking ivy that some moron planted all over my grounds before I bought the place, it seems to actually 'like' glyphosphate even when it is injected into the stems.

          If anyone has a gardening sized nuke, I may be interested.

          1. Kiwi Silver badge
            Mushroom

            Re: Puzzled

            If anyone has a gardening sized nuke, I may be interested.

            Can't help with the nuke, but I'd sure love to try help you get the numbers up for a bulk-purchase order when you do find a seller!

            Have some vines I'd dearly love to apply a little excessive heat-treatment to!

            1. DropBear Silver badge
              Flame

              Re: Puzzled

              I thought that's what The Boring Company's "flamethrowers" were actually for, minus all that pesky radiation!

          2. Christian Berger Silver badge

            Re: Puzzled

            "If anyone has a gardening sized nuke, I may be interested."

            You mean a Rasensprenger? (Rasen=lawn, Sprenger=blaster)

            Those are widely available in German hardware stores.

            References:

            https://dict.leo.org/englisch-deutsch/lawn

            https://dict.leo.org/englisch-deutsch/blaster

      4. Swiss Anton

        Re: Puzzled

        Lichens are not plants, and one day they will inherit the Earth! I for one pay homage to our lichen overlords.

        1. Danny 2 Silver badge

          Re: Puzzled

          Gorgeous and weird, lichens have pushed the boundaries of our understanding of nature—and our way of studying it.

          https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/how-lichens-explain-and-re-explain-world/580681/

    3. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Puzzled

      Surely the whole point of science experiments is to try things and see what happens?

      1. Lusty Silver badge

        Re: Puzzled

        No the point is to try new things and see what happens. Scientists don't generally try things which 90% of the population already know won't work. I love that they went to the moon and it's great PR for a country so burdened with US propaganda as China, but science could already work out the temperature of a lunar night and tell you plants would hate it that cold. I assume they knew all that though and did it anyway for the PR which makes me love them even more. This shows China really doesn't need the US, and that's a great result.

        1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

          Re: Puzzled

          Well they did put a temperature regulator in there, although perhaps not a good enough one -must resist the AliBaba joke.

        2. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: Puzzled

          How do you define "won't work"? And even if it does "not work", then studying how it doesn't work is still useful.

          The question was, What happens if you try to grow various things on the moon? We have an answer to that question, so I don't understand how you can say that the experiment didn't work.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Puzzled

            We knew how and why they wouldn't grow before the experiment. As such the experiment didn't test anything we didn't already have a full understanding of, nor did it provide any new data. In the same way, I don't need to try making a submarine out of swiss cheese. It's cheese and full of holes so we can already fully understand the outcomes without wasting all that cheese trying to determine whether it might be airtight. Yes, the experiment was valid, yes it succeeded in its goals. Good science is about moving things forwards, not about brute forcing every conceivable scenario that's not already been tried.

            For instance, we (to my knowledge) never tried a spacewalk without a space suit. You think that would be worth a bash with a human subject in case we learn something new? How about with a rat, then a dog, then a penguin? We can be confident the outcomes would be as predicted so nobody needs to try these things. We know cotton plants don't do well at such cold temperatures, we don't need to see if they still die when there's low gravity because nothing about the gravity or the dark was ever going to save that little guy. They could similarly have tested the capsule on earth to see whether it could stay warm in the dark and extreme cold. It couldn't and apparently wasn't even designed to have the power to do so. If they had a module that could generate power in the lunar day and use that power for the whole lunar night to generate heat and light that would be worth testing. But we're not there yet.

            The experiment to see whether they can break away from US propaganda about China seems to be working though. We all now can see they made it to the moon and did a bunch of things, and we can see they managed to afford to do so despite the Trump tarrifs. We can see they are good at science and engineering, and they don't appear to have copied from the West to achieve it.

            1. holmegm

              Re: Puzzled

              "We can see they are good at science and engineering, and they don't appear to have copied from the West to achieve it."

              Not disputing they can be good at it, but not sure that follows from this ...

              Landing on the moon? (US, 1969, manned)

              Discovering that plants don't like cryogenic temperatures? (Pretty sure the West knew that some time ago ...)

          2. vir

            Re: Puzzled

            I think the point wasn't that "the experiment didn't return any data" so much as "the experiment didn't return any useful data". We know what the temperatures are during a lunar night. We know that with the lander powered down, the capsule temperature will drop to the same temperature or very close to. We know that the plants/animals they put in the capsule won't be able to survive exposure to those temperatures. While this experiment will confirm that, it seems strange that they didn't make some provision for heating and illuminating the capsule during the lunar night since "how will plants grow in an approximation of a greenhouse for a future lunar base?" is a much more interesting question to answer than "if we expose plants to cryogenic temperatures, will they die?".

        3. Deltics
          Coat

          Re: Puzzled

          I'd challenge the assertion that science doesn't try to prove (or disprove) things "everyone" knows won't work.

          Once upon a time well over 90% of people "knew" that the Earth was the centre of the Solar System, if not the Entirety of Creation. So to keep taking observations to create a model that placed the Sun at the centre of our particular local system and establish that as just one of countless such systems would be a complete waste of time, yes ?

          Once upon a time well over 90% of people "knew" that life could not exist without heat, light and oxygen. So there would be no point looking for life where one or more of that trinity was not to be found and we would still be entirely ignorant of the vast range of extremophiles that defy our previous "certainties" about where life could be found.

          Once upon a time well over 90% of people "knew" that Earth is a flat disc, so to try to sail beyond the Great Ice Wall that kept everything on said disc would be to condemn oneself to an eternal descent into an infinite abyss. Of course, science would have no truck with such a reckless and self-evidently suicidal endeavour.

          In a sense you are right about science being interested in "new things", but sometimes those "new things" are ideas which may very well contradict or at least undermine our previous or current known truths. i.e. scientists absolutely are concerned with proving (or disproving) what we all already "know" because surprisingly often what we all "know" turns out to be wrong.

          Sometimes they do indeed simply confirm what we already know, and we ridicule them for wasting their time (and our money). But every once in a while .......

          On this occasion, perhaps the thinking was that the germinated seed might react quite differently to the very different nature of the onset of Lunar Night (as opposed to any process we might have on Earth for "freezing" a germinated seed to approximate that process)

          We wouldn't know unless we tried it.

          And yes, it's a good PR stunt as well. But t'was ever thus... ask the Montgolfier's about the scientific value of PR.

          1. Lusty Silver badge

            Re: Puzzled

            Those people who challenge the status quo usually have a reasonable hypothesis and an explanation of why things might be different than expected. I'm sure the person who suggested the earth wasn't flat had some sort of explanation as to why they thought that and how they'd go about proving it was round.

        4. Swiss Anton

          Re: Puzzled

          But we still need to be sure that our assumptions are correct. Ass You & Me, and all that.

  5. GrapeBunch Bronze badge

    Didn't Fred Hoyle and Asimov write about this?

    Science Fiction is full of stories of humans putting life (even microscopic) on heavenly bodies and then the life coming back to bite the humans. Is this China experiment on the same page as the rest of Science? Or is the Moon considered contaminated because of what may or may not have happened circa 1969?

    I've made smart-ass comments in these fora, but this time I do want to know the answer. Fire-arms opened the Wild West. Is all that is required for opening Space, just a rocket (a space-ass) with enough boosters? Shall we toss the last smollpox sample over to Deimos, to see what happens?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Didn't Fred Hoyle and Asimov write about this?

      Nasa left a whole pile of poop on the moon in various landers

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Didn't Fred Hoyle and Asimov write about this?

        Send Matt Damon up then, perhaps he can do something with that

        1. Kane Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Didn't Fred Hoyle and Asimov write about this?

          "Send Matt Damon up then, perhaps he can do something with that"

          He'll science the shit out of it.

          Mine's the one with the nitrogen fixers in the pocket.

  6. RunawayLoop

    Cotton, really?

    So yeah I know if I was looking to explore building a base on the moon then I'd be taking along an inedible plant that also consumers a sh!t ton of water.

    Just sayin'

    1. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: Cotton, really?

      That's a good point you make there, and if they had plans to challenge the Uzbekistan cotton market there couldn't be a worse place to do it. Mind you, I'm sure they'd find a way to set up a sweatshop - it's only a matter of time.

      1. Fungus Bob Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Cotton, really?

        " I'm sure they'd find a way to set up a sweatshop "

        Will only work the first day. The Chinese don't seem to like insulation...

    2. hopkinse

      Re: Cotton, really?

      It's a closed ecosystem so much of the water consumed will be re-cycled: water is broken down as part of the carbon fixing process (photosynthesis) but my guess is that the bulk of the water consumed is through transpiration, i.e. evaporation through the stomata pores in the leaves.

    3. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Cotton, really?

      Being able to grow cotton could help clothe space explorers

      I've only an approximate idea of the processing and infrastructure* required to turn cotton bolls into clothing, but I suspect it will be impracticable for "space explorers" to grow their own clothes.

      Come to that, how much growing space is required per shirt?

      * Cotton gin, spinning jenny, loom, dying tank, sewing machine, and, if you're fussy, an iron. But it might be worth it to hear the message "Houston we have trouble at t'mill".

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Cotton, really?

        Yep.

        But if you were going along the route of self sufficiency on survival needs then it would run:-

        air

        water

        food

        shelter

        safety

        sleep

        clothing

        Clothing is last on that list. I'd have thought that the first priority would be getting enough plants growing to be able to use simultaneously as Co2 sinks and a food source. (with the added criteria of using as little water as possible, since presumably shipping water (or recovering moisture from the air) would be expensive.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Cotton, really?

        > but I suspect it will be impracticable for "space explorers" to grow their own clothes.

        But with tarrifs on Earth grown cotton to support hard working lunarians and subsidies to support vital lunar agriculture it could work.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cotton, really?

        Cotton clothing? We all know future astronauts will wear tight fitting latex like clothing with strange glowing parts.

        1. vir

          Re: Cotton, really?

          Interesting idea, though: recyclable clothing. When it wears out or rips you just melt it down and weave some new fabric.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Cotton, really?

            Not weave but spray on. The plan I saw was to first put on a mesh of strings, most would be along the lines of no extension. After that you would spray on the polymer, which is a nice way of saying latex.

            Latex on curing compresses by 4 percent, which is handy in a space situation. More info - look up the MIT Biosuit. This is not science fiction but academic science research.

  7. Sleep deprived
    Facepalm

    "we could not simulate the lunar environment"

    Well, just sprout a cotton seed, drop it in liquid air and that's pretty much what you get on the Moon. Don't worry about microgravity and cosmic radiation.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: "we could not simulate the lunar environment"

      How to simulate microgravity in a practical way:

      a) low earth orbit

      b) centrifugal force to generate desired artificial gravity

      You'll get the cosmic rays and temperature extremes, too. Not a problem, really, as an ISS module.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "we could not simulate the lunar environment"

        You can simulate microgravity with a clinostat on Earth.

        You don't get all the right radiation in low earth orbit (LEO) because of the Earth's magnetic field. It's not just "cosmic radiation" you have to have to worry about; there's also solar radiation that doesn't make it as far as LEO.

        So you might be better off with a clinostat and a nuclear reactor or particle accelerator. But I have no idea what the state of the art is in simulating the radiation in space.

    2. Jimmy2Cows

      Re: "we could not simulate the lunar environment"

      Yeah it's not like they couldn't already know the lunar night gets really cold.

      Could have at least simulated effect of that here on the dirt ball before bunging it into space, then built the satellite to maintain the correct environment throughout.

      1. Jimmy2Cows

        Re: "we could not simulate the lunar environment"

        Oops, lander not satellite.

        Further research suggests this experiment was never meant to survive past lunar nightfall, therefore achieving what it set out to. That or the Chinese are saying that was the plan all along, to save face.

        Whole thing hasn't been helped by the original pics being of the control experiment back on Earth, not the actual experiement on the moon. Just gives it an air of incompetence, or fakery, or both. Not saying those are true, just these kinds of mixup can lead to such thoughts.

  8. ocratato

    Strange.

    Obviously experiments in growing stuff on the moon are going to be important if we ever want to set up a lunar base.

    However, this experiment seemed doomed to a rapid failure.

    Why would you include such an experiment when it would be displacing any number of other experiments that were probably put forward by China's universities?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Why would you include such an experiment when it would be displacing any number of other experiments that were probably put forward by China's universities?

      Publicity...

    2. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

      The experiment is rather more complex

      Than just sprouting seeds. Setting up a functionnal micro-ecosystem is non-trivial even on Earth. I am not privy to the details, but I can only guess that the Unis have done some extensive research / testing down here before sending the cannister moonward, and that they will keep monitoring the experiment to see what happens to the other seeds, the flies , the yeast etc

      This all seems worthy research to me.

      (Of course there is a publicity angle, too, but in our world publicity is how you get funding for research, and not only in China)

  9. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    Manage Expectations?

    Why didn't they announce it as a 10 day experiment? Just land, germinate cotton, declare success and end at nightfall.

    Unfortunately, now it looks like incompetent planning leading to an inevitable failure. The SCMP article even mentions "a small but powerful control system to keep the interior at around 25 degrees Celsius" - did they inform the designer of the portable heater of the expected working conditions?

    Including fruit flies seems over-ambitious, the plants are going to take a while to produce any food for them. Perhaps they could have planned it in 3 phases: prepare by flash-freezing the fruit fly eggs and yeast in liquid nitrogen. Phase 1: seeds germinate, die at nightfall; Phase 2: thaw the fruit fly eggs at dawn and let them feed on the dead plants, die at nightfall; Phase 3: thaw the yeast at dawn, let it grow in whatever is left.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: Manage Expectations?

      They would perhaps do better to start with an already up'n'running biosphere, say one of those vases full of plants and water living insects, wrap it up really really well, and see how it gets on.

      We already know that plants germinate in space, that they germinate in human temperature, and such: what you need to know here is whether they grow up in the right direction at one sixth of a g, and with a fortnightly day/night cycle with no seasonal affect.

      Stage two - is there anything useful in moondust that plants can live on, other than using it as a structural support for the roots?

      There's a lot of science here, important for those of us old enough to have seen Apollo landing, and wondering why we haven't got colonies all over the asteroid belt by now...

  10. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    That'll hold it

    I can't stop looking at the gobs of silicone adhesive squirted into a lunar scientific experiment with a shaky hand.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: That'll hold it

      > I can't stop looking at the gobs of silicone adhesive squirted into a lunar scientific experiment with a shaky hand.

      The bluey-white splodge? I think you'll we'll all find out soon enough that that is The Thing, emerging from the result of a cosmic-ray induced cross-mutation. Soon it will learn how to reverse the polarity of the lander's rockets and launch itself to Earth.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        I'm relieved

        that you have identified it as silicone adhesive. . .

  11. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    You don't want seed sprouting in Uranus

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Joke

      Don't be a Marshole

      1. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

        Uranus is too cold for seeding

    2. Kiwi Silver badge
      IT Angle

      Speak for yourself!

      I know several guys who'd love to plant their seed in Uranus.

      1. aqk
        Paris Hilton

        NO! Not even to grow cotton! Although you might ply me with Cashmere....

  13. wolfetone Silver badge
    Coat

    There is a commonality between this experiment and every time my wife buys a plant.

    Both die within days. So I'm wondering whether my wife is now part of this mission or not.

    1. Anne-Lise Pasch

      Just don't go for the trifecta. ;p

  14. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Failure is success

    One can learn a lot more from a failed experience than a successful one. China's move to experiment with plants on the Moon is very interesting, it's a mandatory step for human colonization in space.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Failure is success

      Perhaps. The question is, did they do similar experiments in their own space station? That would have provided a comparison for low gravity conditions without the inevitable freezing issue.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Failure is success

        Satellites are in free fall, gravity is not low there, it's not felt at all. It's really very different from the Moon, whose gravity is lower than Earth's but still very much present.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Failure is success

          Creating simulated gravity is trivial, a centrifuge is well known technology. Thus it remains an over engineered solution that cannot work properly, simply because the lunar day is too short to have the seeds sprout completely in 10 days.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Failure is success

      One can learn a lot more from a failed experience than a successful one

      Microsoft must have learned one heck of a lot from the various disasters that have befallen its OS software releases since it first launched W8.

      Aahhhh....yes, I note the word "can" is not the same as "will".

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Failure is success

        "Microsoft must have learned one heck of a lot from the various disasters that have befallen its OS software releases since it first launched W8."

        FTFY

  15. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Maybe they should have used sphagnum moss or lichens and tardigrades instead. The latter survive being frozen in liquid helium without ill effect, and the former survive Arctic winters

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. ElNumbre

    Obligatory...

    "He's dead, Jim"

    1. Kane Silver badge

      Re: Obligatory...

      "He's dead, Jim"

      Alternatively....

      .

      "Where is everybody, Hol'?"

      "They're dead, Dave."

      "Who is?"

      "Everybody, Dave."

      "What, Captain Hollister?"

      "Everybody's dead, Dave."

      "What, Todhunter?"

      "Everybody's dead, Dave."

      "What, Selby?"

      "They're all dead. Everybody's dead, Dave."

      "Peterson isn't, is he?"

      "Everybody's dead, Dave!"

      "Not Chen!"

      "Gordon Bennett! Yes, Chen. Everyone. Everybody's dead, Dave!"

      "Rimmer?"

      "He's dead, Dave. Everybody is dead. Everybody is dead, Dave."

      "Wait. Are you trying to tell me everybody's dead?"

      "Should've never let him out in the first place...."

  18. 0laf Silver badge
    Boffin

    Harsh

    Bit harsh to say the experiment failed. It germinated and it grew. It might not have met all the desired outcomes of the experiment but it doesn't seem like a failure.

    I'd love to be privvy to some of the discussion in the US about Chinese space developments. Oh right they're won't be any because the government has shut down over a planning issue.

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Harsh

      What, you mean like no one planned to put up a viable candidate and left it all to the child-like emperor?

  19. Paul Smith

    Safe reserves and efficiency

    The experiment (as originally described) was clearly a multi-generational one, and the amount of power reserves required for it to survive through a lunar night are not actually all that high. However, 'not all that high' could still quickly become higher then 'safe reserves available for secondary functions' if the units insulation, solar panels, battery reserves or any of a dozen other factors were even slightly less efficient then planned, leaving them no choice but to pull the plug. I still say they deserve major credit for even trying.

    1. xeroks

      Re: Safe reserves and efficiency

      This seems right. They may have planned for the very cold temperatures, but something unexpected happened.

    2. A. Coatsworth
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Safe reserves and efficiency

      That sounds plausible: Maybe they lost the auxiliary power (batteries, nuclear pile, hamster-on-a-wheel?) that was meant to keep the plants warm and cozy. And instead of admitting having a big technical problem, they try to save face by spinning the experiment's history

      As far as conspiracy theories go, this one is rather mild...

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Safe reserves and efficiency

        Couldn't they have tested this before they tested it on the moon by taking their small biosphere to Antarctica and leaving it outside? They could start when there is a lot of sunlight and then cover the solar panels if present to simulate the nightfall. If the heater can't survive a fortnight in that, it won't on the moon either. The transit costs would be much less.

  20. Mo'Fo B'dass

    Legal Thing

    Isn't there something in International Law about being able to make a land claim if you have "farmed" the land. Could this obviously-doomed-to-fail biosphere experiment be part of a sneeky legal land grab?

    1. 5p0ng3b0b
      Alien

      Re: Legal Thing

      I actually own an acre of land on the moon purchased from lunarland.com and won't tolerate any illegal cotton farming on it.

  21. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    So now that it's dead, does it go out with the food waste or the garden waste, or just put it in a black sack?

  22. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    How did it survive the long trek from Earth to the Moon without germinating?

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Many plant seeds can be inhibited from germinating by keeping them in the dark, cool and dry. You don't see all of those seed packets at the store sending out roots from the display.

  23. proto-robbie

    Unfortunately for the plant ...

    ... it wasn't rocket science.

    1. John 61
      Windows

      Re: Unfortunately for the plant ...

      Neither is Windows Update. If it were, it would work.

  24. David Nash Silver badge
    Boffin

    How was it a failure?

    They didn't say they were going to grow crops, they did an experiment to study the germination of seeds.

    And that is what they did, successfully.

    Of course they didn't expect it to survive the lunar night temperatures. That doesn't mean the experiment failed. If it provided some results, it was a successful experiment, whatever the results were.

  25. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    First plant to grow on moon.

    First plant to have cells burst due to freezing on moon.

    First plant death on moon.

    A trifecta of science!

    Good to see China is infected with the same story-changing time wasters we have at home.

    Scientists! Do science!

  26. Huw D

    *looks at photo accompanying the article*

    *makes note to get Pringles on the way home*

  27. Doctor Evil

    Best laugh of the morning (so far)

    Thanks ed.s!

    "The experiment was originally touted as a study into the potential ways astronauts might be able to live in space during long missions. Being able to grow cotton could help clothe space explorers, Liu Hanglong, a professor at the school of civil engineering at Chongqing University, who is leading the bio-experiment, previously told the South China Morning Post."

    Hmmm -- might have put my finger on why the experiment per se didn't accomplish very much. Maybe put a plant biologist in charge next time?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Best laugh of the morning (so far)

      Indeed, listen to Mike Dixon (of CESRF http://www.ces.uoguelph.ca/index.shtml) at 56:00 here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-wednesday-edition-1.4980446

  28. LoPath
    Pint

    Am I the only one that caught it??

    ...it proved no match for the Moon's frigid temperatures, which can drop as low as -170 degrees Celsius (-274 degrees in Freedom units) on the arid satellite.

    Have a freedom pint on me!

  29. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    There goes my cunning plan to establish my cotton plantation on the moon...

    Well, I guess I can fall back on promoting the deliciousness of green cheese.

  30. Tom 7 Silver badge

    That photo

    appeared in many papers as a grid that you would look through desperately trying to find the shoot,

    I found it on one site - it would have been an inch or two off the the left on all the other ones published. It seems most sites crop (crap) the photo to fit the layout without person with clue checking it.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    After reading of Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind", China has clearly decided recreate Mao's "great leap forward" and demonstrate that they can now manage crop failure on the moon as well.

  32. the Jim bloke Bronze badge

    Yes it gets cold at night

    Why is that a problem ?

    We have insulators that withstand far higher temperature differentials than a couple of hundred degrees, I remember a publicity photo from the early days of the space shuttle, someone holding a re-entry shield tile in their fingertips on the corners while the center glowed red hot (easily faked photo, but the shuttle did work)

    Heat loss, AFAICR occurs through radiation, convection, and conduction. Convection should not be a issue. Radiation and conduction are engineering problems and solvable as such. It may just be that mass constraints precluded carrying enough insulation, but the narrative the Chinese were pushing wasnt going to mention that..

  33. Criggie

    Serious question - why not land at a lunar pole? Orbital mechanics could be a bit more challenging, but it will at least have sunlight all the time, albeit at a low angle.

    The sunlight might be somewhat attenuated though, and solar panels would have to stand up like a wall, AND rotate to follow the sun. A radio dish would also have to follow Earth too.

    Some brief googling suggests humanity has landed at 37 degrees north with Luna 17 and 40 degrees south with Surveyor 7 according to https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/LRO/multimedia/moonimg_07.html but that's quite old now.

    1. STOP_FORTH

      The sunlight won't be attenuated because there is no atmosphere. That's why you can't open a pub on the moon.

      1. aqk
        Alien

        Atmosphere?

        A pub?

        Hey, I make the local atmosphere! As long as there no smokers nearby.

        Oh- the Moon is airless! No problem!

        But I'd like an awning perhaps. Or a large umbrella for my acolytes. Then you all may gather around, and listen to my bon mots. The atmosphere will come.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      This is a good point. Both poles have (supposedly - evidence is hard to get) what are called Peaks of Eternal Light, a rather poetic name for peaks that extends above the shadows. The Lunar axis tilts by only 3 degrees so it is not far fetched.

      There are snags though, having low solar angles these peaks are not well mapped which presents a risk. Also if you read military space warfare literature (just to clarify - this is not science fiction literature but articles from US military) you will see these were once of great strategic interest (continuous solar power is a huge advantage as is permanent radio link to Earth). Until Trump started talking about a Space Force this was confined to paper studies. Now, however, focus is shifting, and going there can be seen as upping the tension.

      Also that would exclude reaching the far side of the Moon which also has challenges.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      One of the goals of the Chinese program is to put a radio observatory on the far side of the moon. They may also appreciate that whatever else they might be doing won't be visually observable from the Earth.

  34. Jove Bronze badge

    Did they really get to the Moon ...

    ... or did they just fake it in a film studio?

    1. Kiwi Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Did they really get to the Moon ...

      At least the Chinese would reputedly have less of an issue with 'encouraging' 400,000-odd employees to remain silent!

    2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Re: Did they really get to the Moon ...

      They could not use any old studio. To achieve such outlandish landscapes they had to build their film studio on Mars. Right next to the Yanks.

  35. RegGuy1

    Should have sent the tardigrades

    They should have sent some tardigrades up there.

    And why are they trying to grow cotton? Don't they know that's what has drained the Aral Sea?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Should have sent the tardigrades

      Hope not, what if they perfect the spore drive?

    2. aqk
      Boffin

      Re: Should have sent the tardigrades

      Of course they know. But capitalism reigns.

      Cotton is also responsible for draining the Mare Imbrium and Mare Frigoris, etc At one a great colony of Lunatechs lived there.

      Earthling, take note.

  36. Lockwood

    Cotton?

    Should have tried growing potatoes. We know that they'll grow off of Earth, if fertilised with astronaut poop.

    1. 5p0ng3b0b

      Re: Cotton?

      How many bags of crisps could a potato suppository yield I wonder?

      1. aqk
        Unhappy

        Re: Cotton?

        In China, they use noodle suppositories. And of course bones from dead tigers.

  37. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Cotton is interesting

    One of the issues with going to Mars is that clothing would be a problem. Wear out your unders and it's a couple of years to get a fresh pack. Of course, all petroleum based fabrics are out. Wool? Yeah, right. That leaves mainly cotton and flax (linen) and then there is the problem of making cloth and assembling it into clothing. 3D printing a loom would be a major feat, but a loom might be one of the first round of machines that would need to be built from locally sourced materials. The first problem with going to Mars is having healthy enough humans after the trip out. After that, they are going to need just a huge list of things since living off of the land is not an option. Setting up a moon base and running experiments such as finding out what will grow will be crucial to traveling further out.

    1. aqk
      Facepalm

      Re: Cotton is interesting

      3D printing a loom?

      Get with it man! You feed the cotton juice into the printer and it prints your undies!

  38. aqk
    Pint

    (-274 degrees in Freedom units)

    Great! As a Canadian living next door to the US, I have to remember this one.

    Besides the US, does any other "developed" country in the world still use Faren,... uh, Freedum degrees?

    The local US radio stations drive me nuts with their antiquated weather reports.

    hmmm... So one KM is now approx .625 Freedomiles.

    And it takes 2.54 cm to make a Freeduminch. Yeah, that's about right

    How many stone does a Brit weigh? ??? Oh! A Stone = 14 FreedumLb

    Uhh.. I mean ONE Brexitstone of course!

  39. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Forest of Lunar Sequoias

    I've read all the comments here, many good if contradictory points, and I have a solution. We launch tens of thousands of sequoias to be planted all at once on the moon, inside modified SpaceX rockets, wrapped in woolly jumpers. You know, as an experiment. Space Force!

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