China announced its goal to set up a scientific research base on the surface of the Moon on its National Space Day on April 24. Naturally, there are several speculations over China’s true intent for heading out to the Moon. While some say that China is trying to find a way to exploit the resources on the Moon, especially helium-3, others believe that it is China’s way of showing space development supremacy, as no one has gone back to the Moon since the U.S., which was almost four decades ago.
There is also a sense that China is planning to establish a manned settlement on the base of the Moon to claim the land and its resources. As of now, there are no contenders on the Moon and China wants to get there and claim it before anyone else does. For that matter, the U.S. administration, too, has been talking about going back to the Moon and pushing NASA to establish another manned Moon landing mission promptly.
China is also planning to create a mini ecosystem on the dark side of the Moon to sustain life. The first attempt will be to transport silkworms and flowers, interdependent on each other for growth, to experiment with the possibility of life on the Moon. According to The Telegraph: “The insects, plants, potato seeds, and Arabidopsis — a small flowering plant belonging to the mustard family — will be taken to the Moon on board the Chang’e-4 lander-rover in December.”
The flowers, seeds, and insects will be transported and placed in a special aluminum alloy tin that will also contain water, air, nutrients for the plants’ growth, and a camera to record and register the growth of the plants. A tube will also help direct natural sunlight to the plants and seeds so they can grow. Both sides of the moon, the dark side and the one facing us, receive equal amounts of sunlight.
Chinese research and scientists claim that once the plants and seeds successfully grow, they will emit oxygen that will be utilized by the silkworms who, in turn, will produce carbon dioxide and waste to accelerate the growth of the plants.
This biological experiment on the Moon is crafted by 28 Chinese universities and led by Chongqing University. The team has specifically chosen potato seeds, as they can grow to be the main source of food for future astronauts setting up a base on the Moon. The Arabidopsis was chosen for its ability to grow quickly, which will help scientists to observe and derive an analysis of the experiment promptly and conveniently.
However, there are many challenges to overcome for this experiment to be a success. The lunar gravity is only roughly 16 percent of the Earth’s, which is a problem, as plants need gravity to control the direction of their growth. Another issue is the harsh environment, as the Moon does not have a proper atmosphere and temperature control. According to Quartz Media: “The temperatures on the Moon could drop more than -100 °C (-148°F), and the team needs to keep the tin’s temperature between 1 and 30°C (34-86°F)”
On the other hand, if successful, China will be the first country to land on the dark side of the moon, first of all, and also the first to create a sustainable ecosystem to support long-term space expeditions. While astronauts have successfully grown plants in space before, China, through this experiment, aims to be the first to grow life on the Moon.