We know potatoes can grow on Mars. But can they grow on the Moon? We’re about to find out – sort of.
As reported by the Chongqing Morning Post, China is going to include a small ecosystem on its next lunar lander and see if they can grow potatoes on the lunar surface from seeds. They will remain in the controlled ecosystem.
The lander is called Chang’e 4, and will be sent to the surface of the Moon in 2018. The mission will also include a rover, like the Chang’e 3 mission before it, which landed in 2013.
China revealed its plans for this experiment at the Global Space Exploration Conference (GLEX 2017) in Beijing this week. The ecosystem is a small cylinder measuring 18 by 16 centimeters (7.1 by 6.3 inches), which you can see a picture of in this story by China Plus.
Alongside the seeds, China plans to also send silkworm eggs inside the ecosystem. Scientists and researchers from 28 different Chinese universities are helping design the hardware for the mission.
“The eggs will hatch into silkworms, which can produce carbon dioxide, while the potatoes and seeds emit oxygen through photosynthesis,” Zhang Yuanxun, chief designer of the container, reportedly told the Chongqing Morning Post. “Together, they can establish a simple ecosystem on the Moon.”
As the temperature on the Moon can vary dramatically between -170°C and 100°C (-270°F and 210°F), the ecosystem will be layered with insulating material to keep the plants and insects at a moderate temperature. There will also be artificial lights inside, powered by batteries.
And if you’re worried that this is all going to be kept under wraps, don’t be. China actually plans to livestream the development of the plants and the insects around the world. Yes, in 2018 you’ll be able to watch plants grow on the surface of the Moon.
No country has ever attempted something like this before. On the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts have grown a variety of crops, but it’s never been done elsewhere. If it does prove successful, and we can’t see any reason it wouldn’t, then perhaps future lunar colonists might be tucking in to a tasty potato dish in the future.
In March this year, scientists showed that you could grow potatoes in Mars-like soil. Of course, this was part-inspired by the character Mark Watney in The Martian, but potatoes are also an extremely hardy food that might be useful for future exploration.
While Chang’e 4 won’t grow potatoes directly in lunar regolith (soil), it will be an interesting experiment all the same.