Chang’e 4: Why Is the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program Sending Silkworms & Potatoes to the Moon?

This June, the Chinese Space Exploration Program is sending silkworms and potatoes to live on the surface of the moon. If it goes well, humans could be next.

If you feel like Earth is becoming less and less habitable each year, you’re not alone. Even famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking declared in 2017 that if human civilization is to survive, our best bet is to move to the moon within the next 30 years.

As it turns out, China is about to take the first steps toward testing livability on what’s often referred to as the “dark side” of the moon — the as-yet-unexplored southern hemisphere, not visible from Earth.

As part of its Chang’e 4 mission, slated for lift-off in June 2018, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) plans to send an aluminum alloy container of plants and insects to the southern hemisphere’s South Pole–Aitken Basin, one of the largest impact basins, or craters, in the solar system.

“The Chinese are pushing back the frontier with such a technically challenging mission,” space analyst Brian Harvey told The Guardian.

The container will be attached to a lander along with instruments to study the area’s geography, which is thought to contain large amounts of water ice.

“The container will send potatoes, arabidopsis seeds [a self-pollinating annual sometimes called thale cress] and silkworm eggs to the surface of the Moon. The eggs will hatch into silkworms, which can produce carbon dioxide, while the potatoes and seeds emit oxygen through photosynthesis. Together, they can establish a simple ecosystem on the Moon,” Zhang Yuanxun, chief designer of the container, told the Chongqing Morning Post.

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