China’s Chang’e-4 mission has successfully started growing plants on the moon.
Cotton seeds can be seen sprouting in a photo released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
The mission took a variety of seeds to the moon as part of its biosphere experiment and this marks the first time ever that biological material has been cultivated on the lunar surface.
Other biological matter on the Chang’e-4 mission includes cotton, oilseed rape, potato, Arabidopsis, yeast and fruit flies.
More plants are expected to sprout in the next 100 days, the Chinese space agency claims.
Developing the ability to grow plants in space is an important step towards successful long duration space flight to Mars and beyond.
The picture emerged after being released has come from Chongqing University and was published on the university’s Weibo account.
It read: ‘After experimenting under the moon’s high vacuum, large temperature difference, strong radiation and harsh conditions, mankind has grown the first plant sprout, realising man’s first moon-based biological growth experiment’.
Images sent back by the probe show the cotton sprout has grown well, but so far none of the other plants on-board have taken, the university said.
Fruit flies – also known as Drosophila – are a model organism widely used throughout science to understand how animals react in different environments.
Their short reproduction time is useful in allowing scientists to understand its genetic impact after several generations of reproduction.
Arabidopsis, a simple plant related to the mustard family, is the plant equivalent of Drosophila and also widely used by scientists.
The studies on these pioneering plants are being done in a specially designed biosphere on the Chang’e-4 lander and not on the mobile rover, Yutu-2.