“humankind's first biological experiment on the Moon.”
I think a couple blokes with Apollo patches beat China to the punch half a century ago. Those two's biological processes were studied up one side and down the other.
A tiny cotton seed brought to the Moon's surface by a Chinese spacecraft has apparently just sprouted, quite possibly making it the first Earth-based plant to start growing on our rocky satellite. Well, growing in a box very close to the surface, anyway. The People’s Daily, the official state media for China’s ruling …
They should show that experiment is sustainable for months, if not years, and with full grown plants. Which I guess is more than the lander expected life - and available space (and where's the water from?). Having a seed sprout in a sealed box is not that difficult, even if the box is on the Moon.
...Having a seed sprout in a sealed box is not that difficult, even if the box is on the Moon.
I'm not sure it's that easy is it?
The seed and box have to survive the journey (so lots of vibration and high g), and then deal with ambient temp swings between -170 and +100 degrees C. It's not just a shoe box with some cling film wrapped round.
"ambient temp swings"
Small point of order here, there is no "ambient temp" on the moon. It's surface temperature and vacuum. As such, an object will definitely get warmer in the lunar day, but a well designed one doesn't necessarily need to radiate that heat away at night.
Not a stunt, Working out the problems involved with Off-Earth farming is an important logical step in space exploration.
There are a lot of previously 'Sci-fi' scenarios that are now not only technically feasible but are rapidly approaching being financially feasible as well. We have landed probes on comets & asteroids > We can land a robotic production facility on them.
Launch cost per Kg is dropping rapidly, Falcon Heavy (starting around the $90M/launch mark) can lift 60 tonnes to LEO & 16 tonnes to Mars. One of the next flights is planned to deliver multiple satellites into different orbits.
I doubt there's anything to stop someone eventually turning up and building a lunar farmstead or colony. It certainly can't stop a totally off-planet state emerging over time and people do have the habit of moving to wherever they can get with the hope of a better life eventually. In the 19th century selling everything and buying a one-way ticket to the Americas moved 10s of millions across the Atlantic on ships built purely to satisfy the demand.
The Moon is only a few days away and presents a far better starting location for any off planet activity.
"In the 19th century selling everything and buying a one-way ticket to the Americas moved 10s of millions across the Atlantic on ships built purely to satisfy the demand."
Although I agree with you in principle, setting sail across the oceans on Earth is a bit easier. You can breath all the way and know you can carry on breathing when you get there. There's also a high probability you can live off the land when you get there with minimal technology.
Having a seed sprout in a sealed box is not that difficult, even if the box is on the Moon.
That may or may not be true: root developpment is in part driven by gravity, in different ways depending on the species. Even only a couple weeks of observations could provide valuable data.
Useful research, even if it appears social-media / PR focused.
less likely to horrify the general public than sending a dog or monkey up there and leaving it until it dies, although that is a valid step somewhere along the process. The important thing is to learn, and even -or especially- if(when) it fails
I don't quite see where the experiment takes knowledge beyond current understanding.
Germination and growth in a sealed, temperature controlled environment has been shown many times, including increased 'gravity' using slow centrifuges and on the ISS in micro gravity. Issues would be expected to arise when the gravity gets small and the plants get big, and not with the sealed growth environment itself. However gravity is still significant so I would not expect it to be a particular issue on the moon - at least in the early development phases - and, in any event, I don't believe the impact of a lower gravity on long term plant growth can be tested with the Chinese experiment.
What I would suggest is a long term study with the system exposed to properly harsh conditions to simulate dehydration, water logging, freeze/thaw cycles, excess temperature and other harsh extremes - just deliver it to my mum, she'll kill it ...
I mostly agree. A crucial area is how development in lunar gravity compares with development in Earth's gravity and micro-gravity. I'd expect it to be much closer to the former than the later. There are a lot of things that go wrong for humans in microgravity and I hope they don't also go wrong in 1/6th g. I don't know if this experiment can shed much light on this.
Old school science.. try something, see if it works
if it works, hooray, try something harder. (actually, try it again, several times, because being right is IMPORTANT)
if it doesnt, figure out why the hell not.
The location and media attention on the other hand, would be political grandstanding.
Thats why the Yanks went to the moon, and if they have lost their mojo then its a good thing somebody else has taken up the job.
"The China National Space Administration (CNSA) stashed cotton, rape, potato and rockcress seeds aboard the Chang’e lander"
I can only imagine the misunderstandings when we begin exporting rape across the galaxy... Also, why is the sprout covered in spooge in their photo? Did the astronauts get overexcited?
Or did I miss a chunk somewhere.
Was it a case of "why not ?" or are there specific reasons for choosing cotton over any other plant ?
Either way, this seems another marmite science story. For myself it's fascinating. But there's a lot of people going "what's the point ?". Which (as always) rather misses the point of "science".
"..that the rapeseed could produce oil for astronauts, potatoes could feed them, and cotton could clothe them."
And the fruit flies can annoy the crap out of them..
This isn't groundbreaking in any way, as many biological experiments of greater complexity have been conducted on the ISS, Shuttle, MIR, and probably Skylab. But since the Chinese don't have a space station or orbiter (yet), I can see why they would want to try it. And I guess claiming to be the first to grow something on the moon is worth some props. What would be useful though would be to study the effects of solar and cosmic radiation on their progeny, but I doubt they'll live long enough for radiation to be a factor in any way.
Plants are quite slow to react, so you can simulate weak gravity by putting them on an inclined disc that rotates slowly ("clinostat"). If you did O-level biology you might remember experiments like that. So you can do a fairly good simulation of lunar conditions in a laboratory. Doing the experiment on the moon for real would then just be a check that the simulation was good enough. Probably the results will be as expected and not much will be learnt, but you might learn something if the experiment "fails".
"the Chinese don't have a space station or orbiter"
They have an orbiter called Shenzhou, which is somewhat of an advanced, enlarged, and modernised Soyuz.
They also have a space station project. Their first station, Tiangong-1 was in orbit between 2011 and 2018 and was visited by two crews.
The follow up, Tiangong-2, is currently orbiting, and they're now planning a much larger, modular, space station (think Mir but modern).
Can all you technical types have really missed the REAL purpose of this experiment? As pointed out, there have been other bio experiments done before. But this time, the environment box is poorly shielded. They hope exposure to cosmic radiation will mutate the flies over several generations.
All those Bond movies missed the boat, China will be the first to have a secret moon base. While Western space agencies languish under budget cuts, the Chinese will develop a race of gigantic space mutant flies. One fine day they will fly to Russia and the United States and begin eating everything in sight. Giant maggots will wallow over the landscape, devouring what the flies don't and crushing everything else. After developing in the harsh conditions on the Moon, they will be tough enough to survive any conventional weapons attack. The West will collapse under the onslaught.
And you thought the little fly was cute...
Nothing too ground-breaking there, but the fact that they have created a self-contained biosphere (albeit a small one) is a clear indication of China's future plans for the moon. It may already have been done on the ISS, but then I don't think anyone has intentions of setting up a colony there.
One point - unless I missed something the soil used was brought from Earth. It would be interesting to see how far they get with Moon soil (I'm sure it's not just a case of 'Add water...').
Imagine spending BILLIONS to pick cotton on the moon. And, while we're at it, let's make the moon into another toxic dump, like China, by bringing in fruit flies, yeasts and plant seeds to turn lose. Of course they don't stand a chance in hell of surviving, but it's the notion that they tried, without oversight.
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