Chinese lunar probe to grow potato, silkworm eggs on moon

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A Chang'e-4 lunar probe model is on display. Photo: Xinhua

China’s Chang’e-4 unmanned lunar probe will soon embark on a 384,400-kilometer journey for “unprecedented missions” on the moon, as its launch is scheduled for the second half this year. 

The fourth spacecraft of the Chinese lunar mission, named after the goddess of the moon in ancient Chinese mythology, will touch down softly on the South Pole-Aitken Basin of the far side of the moon, in an attempt to determine the age and composition of the landing site. The crater that Chang’e-4 is expected to land in is thought to be the oldest impact feature on the moon.  

It will carry seeds of potato and a specimen of the Arabidopsis genus, a small flowering plant related to cabbage and mustard, and some silkworm eggs for lunar biological experiments, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA). 

“We will see if the seeds and eggs can grow on the lifeless, microgravity lunar surface,” the CNSA said in a press release this week.

The “lunar mini-biosphere” experiment was designed by 28 Chinese universities.

The CNSA conducted a contest among high-school and university students across China to collect ideas on the design of Chang’e-4‘s payloads. 

Chang’e-4 will consist of an orbiter, a robotic lander and a rover. A communication relay satellite will first be launched to relay the signals between the lander/rover and the Earth station. 

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