China made waves the other day when it announced that its Chang’e-4 lander, which arrived on the far side of the moon on January 3, had begun growing plants on its rover. The news marked the first time a living organism has ever been grown on another celestial body, making it technically the first life that we know of in space. Chang’e-4 took with it soil containing potato and cotton seeds, as well as yeast and fruit fly eggs.
The ingredients were kept in a biosphere and scientists in China hope to prove that an artificial, self-sustaining environment can thrive on our lunar satellite, with the hope of moving humans there in the future.
While there was initial success with the plants, China has revealed that all of its life carried aboard Chang’e-4 is dead.
In fact, the scientists stated that they never expected the seeds to last more than one night, as freezing temperatures – which plummeted to as low as -170 degrees Celsius – as well as constant bombardment of radiation due to the moon having no atmosphere, were elements that were too difficult to contend with.
Prof Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University, who led the design of the experiment, said: “Life in the canister would not survive the lunar night.”
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station had grown plants on the spaceship, but no one had any experience growing life on the moon – making the task much more difficult.
Prof Xie continued: “We had no such experience before. And we could not simulate the lunar environment, such as microgravity and cosmic radiation, on Earth.”
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) did not say whether the fruit fly eggs had died however, but Prof Xie said that if they failed to hatch in the first 24 hours, then they have missed their opportunity.
He added: “Fruit flies are relatively lazy animals. They might not come out.”