China has a new farm—on the far side of the Moon.
Cotton and potato seeds taken to the moon on the Chang’e-4 mission have begun to sprout, according to the China National Space Administration. The sprouts mark the first time biological matter has been grown on the moon, though plants have been grown on the International Space Station.
The seeds were rendered dormant using “biological technology” for the 20-day trip to the Moon. They’re now growing in a sealed container on the lander where they’ll try to form a mini biosphere.
Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory told the BBC this development could lead to astronauts being able to grow their own food on the Moon, which could help support longer-term space exploration. Watson said there was interest in using the Moon as a “staging post” for trips to other planets, such as Mars. Professor Xie Gengxin, who designed the experiment, told the South China Morning Post“ it could help establish a permanent base in space.
The seedlings aren’t the only way the Chang’e-4 mission is making history though. Earlier this month, it became the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon, which was previously unexplored by humans. The mission also featured a collaboration between NASA and the China National Space Administration, the first of its kind since a 2011 law banned such collaboration without congressional approval.