China's moon lander sprouted a plant, but now it's dead

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Undated image sent by China's Chang'e-4 probe shows one of the cotton seeds carried to the moon by the probe has sprouted on the moon.

In a first for humankind, plants are growing on the surface of the moon, the South China Morning Post reports.

The People's Daily, the official state media for China's ruling Communist Party, tweeted a picture of the experiment, and claimed it is "humankind's first biological experiment on the Moon".

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Camera IconIn this photo provided January 12, 2019, by the China National Space Administration via Xinhua News Agency, the lunar lander of the Chang'e-4 probe is seen in a photo taken by the rover Yutu-2 on January 11, 2019.

With an annual space budget of $8 billion, second only to the U.S., China is also looking to send a probe to the red planet by the end of this decade and build its own space station by 2022.

China's The Long March 3B rocket, transporting the Chang'e-4 lunar rover in December.

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CNSA hopes that this experiment will be useful for exploring future long-term missions to space. "Learning about these plants' growth in a low gravity environment would allow us to lay foundation for our future establishment of (a) space base". According to the BBC, the sprouts are part of an ongoing experiment to test photosynthesis and respiration. The CNSA, the Ministry of Education, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the China Association for Science and Technology and other organizations launched a contest among students across China in 2015, collecting ideas on the design of the payloads.

China has announced ambitious new plans in space, including building a base on the Moon and sending a probe to Mars.

In a hypothetical habitable lunar environment, the cotton seeds could provide material to make fabric, the potatoes and rockcress would provide food, and the rapeseed could be used to produce oil, Xie Gengxin, the chief designer of the project, told SCMP.

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China's ambitions for space and lunar exploration aren't limited to the current mission. "And with time moving on, it'll be the first plant with green leaves on the moon", Xie said.

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