China Is Growing Cotton On The Moon

Plants have been grown on the International Space Station before, but never on the moon.

China's Chang'e 4 lunar probe made headlines on January 3, after becoming the first to successfully land on the far side of the moon. 

Weeks later, it's made headlines again, for another world first.

Seeds taken up into space by the lander have sprouted, becoming the first biological matter to grow on the moon.

Pictures released by Chinese media show cotton seeds sprouting from a lattice-like structure inside a sealed container.

It's all part of a bid to investigate whether or not the moon can support future space travellers.

Cotton seeds, potato seeds, rapeseed, yeast, and fruit fly eggs were all sealed inside a canister and loaded on the lander to protect them from extreme temperature and radiation.

READ MORE: How China Landed A Spacecraft On The Dark Side Of The Moon

While the cotton seeds were the first to pop through, rapeseed and potato seeds have also begun to sprout, with those images expected to be released in the coming weeks.

IMAGE: Twitter via China Xinhua News

The items inside the canister act as 'producers, consumers, and decomposers in the micro-ecosystem, head of the experiment, Professor Liu Hanlong, told the South China Morning Post. 

So basically, the crops will try to form a mini biosphere - an artificial, self-sustaining environment.

It's a massive step forward.

READ MORE: China Planning To Launch Fake Moon To Replace Streetlights

Potatoes could be the main source food for space explorers, cotton could be used for clothing, and rapeseed could be a source of oil, Liu said.

The ability to grow plants on the Moon is integral to long-term space missions, it could potentially allow astronauts to harvest their own food in space, reducing the need to make a trip back down to earth.