China launches plans for Moon missions, base, Mars probe

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The China National Space Agency's Chang'e 4 lander is exploring the mysterious side of our lunar neighbor that faces away from Earth. While astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been growing and consuming lettuce in space for a few years now, China has achieved a historic milestone by sprouting cotton seeds on the surface of the Moon.

"In the past, we were always rushing to catch up to the advanced global standards" in space, said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China's lunar exploration project.

"Chang'e-5 will return mission sampling from the surface of the Moon around the end of this year", said Dr Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the CNSA and deputy commander of Lunar Exploration Programme. Yeast, fruit flies, and rock cress were also sent aboard Chang'e-4 as part of an experiment to investigate growth in low-gravity environments. Since then, the lander, rover, and communication satellite have been working together to feed information back to Earth, and there's good news for future astronauts who'll need to grow their own food off-world.

Shortly after the successful landing of the Chang'e-4 probe on the far side of the moon on January 3, China's spacecraft is going back at the end of this year to make its second of the four missions to the moon. Meanwhile, sprouts in an Earth-based control experiment were shown to be evidently performing much better.

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The Chang'e 4 is also the first vehicle to land on the far-side of the moon. Reports from China indicate that the cotton seeds have germinated while the lander is parked on the far side of the moon. The ability to grow plants in space is seen as crucial for long-term space missions and establishing human outposts elsewhere in the solar system, such as Mars.

Pictures released by the China National Space Administration released pictures showing a rocky surface with the jagged edge of craters in the background, posing a challenge for controllers in plotting the rover's travels, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

State-run China Central Television reported on Tuesday that scientists got a cotton seed to sprout for the first time on the moon.

We could probably make some nice sweaters from moon-grown cotton. Wu said. "We hope that Chang'e 8 will help test some technologies, and do some exploring for the building of a joint lunar base shared by multiple countries".

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