Seeds taken to the ‘dark side’ of the moon in an historic Chinese mission have sprouted, according to the country’s National Space Administration.
The probe touched down on 3 January in the first ever exploration of the far side of the moon – during which the cotton seeds were planted as an experiment.
It marks the first time biological matter has grown outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Plants have been grown on the International Space Station, but that stays in low orbit around the planet.
The ability to grow life on the moon is seen as integral to the potential for future bases there as a way of producing food and oxygen.
On Tuesday, Chinese state media said the cotton seeds had grown buds.
The People’s Daily said the seeds will continue to grow and the plant is expected to produce its first leaf “soon”.
The outlet added there are five other kinds of organism samples inside the probe – potatoes, Arabidopsis, rapeseed, fruit fly pupa and yeast.
Professor Xie Gengxin, the experiment’s chief designer, told the South China Post: “We have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base.”
Gengxin added that the six species were chosen because they were small and could grow in a specially designed, confined environment.
Chinese media said the seeds were kept dormant using biological technology until the probe had landed and received a signal from the Earth telling the machine to water them.