China Wants to Grow Potatoes on the Moon

Arielle Cifuentes
The spud seedlings will supposedly land on the lunar surface in 2018.

It was forty eight years ago that United States astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed on the moon, and yet we're still a long way away from calling our orbiting rock a second home. But Chinese scientists would like to send at least one living thing from planet Earth to live on our gray-cast cousin—they're attempting to grow potatoes on Moon.

Chongqing University scientists have created a silkworm-driven mini-ecosystem, in which the worms provide carbon dioxide to the potato seedlings, which in turn put out the oxygen the creatures need to survive. All this will happen in box no bigger than three kilograms, according to reports from the South China Morning Post.

The box will arrive on the moon's surface in 2018, as part of the country's Chang'e 4 mission, one meant to land on the moon and explore the lunar surface with a rover.

Creating that small box was challenging for the team of scientists, who had to defy the moon's surface temperature—which fluctuates between -170 degrees Celsius at night to 120 degrees Celsius during the day—and create an internal ecosystem with temperatures between 1 and 30 degrees Celsius in order for the plants to survive. Scientists made the box with insulation and light pipes—which transmit daylight into the container—to sustain the temperature, and added specially-designed batteries to provide a consistent energy supply.

The project's lead designer, Xie Gengxin, told the South China Morning Post that this could be the first step in determining whether we could one day inhabit the Moon. Gengxin also said the ecosystem's progress will be live-streamed from the moon's surface for the "whole world" to see. More details on that to come.

Meanwhile, back on earth, the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru earlier this year grew potatoes on Mars—well, kind of. Scientists there recreated conditions on the Red Planet in a lab, and successfully sprouted spuds. Their success was another boon for those who one day hope to colonize other planets—or at least farm some 'taters there.

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