China has big plans for the Moon - and it just locked three people inside a prototype Moon Base to prove it.
Named the Lunar Permanent Astrobase Life-Support Artificial Closed Ecosystem, or Palace 1 for short, the base is a realistic (except for the gravity) pretend Lunar base built and maintained at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
It is intended for use as a test-bed for manned space missions, and is operated partly by the China Manned Space Engineering office (CSME).
Just 500 cubic meters in volume, the module consists of a living space (with bedrooms, work room and a toilet, and two small farms. Three Chinese volunteers lived for more than 105 days inside the palace as part of a recent test, and more are expected to head inside soon. Two women, Xie Beizhen and Wang Minjuan, and one man, Dong Chen, entered the palace in March and were eventually released last month.
CSME officials said in a statement:
"The success of the experiment has laid [a] good foundation to CELSS [the controlled ecological life support system] flight demonstration tests for China's space station, which will be helpful for China's astronauts to get fresh vegetables, improve their living conditions and relieve their mental stress."
Above: Wang Minjuan, one of three Chinese "biospherians" to live 105 days within the Lunar Palace 1.
Other similar experiments have been conducted by the American and Russian space programs, among others, but few have included "biogenerative life-support" as an active element of research. The idea is for humans on other worlds to eventually support themselves by growing food and recycling as much water, air and other chemicals as possible.
"China's Lunar Palace 1 gives an entirely new meaning to 'Chinese takeout,'" said Larry Young, Apollo program professor of astronautics at MIT, to Space.com.