In the beginning of January, 2019, a Chinese probe did what no human or machine has ever accomplished. It landed on the far side of the Moon. Recently, it took another giant leaf for mankind by growing the first plant there. Cotton.

In the past, living organisms have been grown on the International Space Station, but never on the Moon. According to the BBC, “the ability to grow plants on the Moon will be integral for long-term space missions, like a trip to Mars which would take about two-and-a-half years.” Experts claim that this is the first step towards astronauts harvesting their own food in space, which would greatly reduce the need to come back down to Earth to resupply.

Among its cargo, the Chang’e 4 lunar lander was carrying soil containing cotton and potato seeds, yeast and fruit fly eggs. The crops are kept in a sealed container on board the lander. The idea is to use them to form a mini biosphere – an artificial, self-sustaining environment. The lunar experiment on the Chang’e-4 lander is designed to test photosynthesis and respiration (processes in living organisms that result in the production of energy). All of this magic is contained within an 18cm tall, 3kg canister that was designed by 28 Chinese universities.

Chinese scientists released this image of a cotton plant germinating in its tank on the moon aboard the Chang’e 4 lander. The photograph was taken Jan. 7, 2019

Image credits: Chongqing University

Cotton seeds carried by Chinese lunar lander Chang’e 4 germinate on the far side of the moon

Image credits: Chongqing University

Project chief Liu Hanlong says the cotton seeds were the first to sprout

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Seeds in the Chang’e-4 have begun sprouting after landing on the moon

Image credits: CLEP/Getty Images

An image of the Chinese biology experimental capsule now on the far side of the moon aboard the Chang’e 4 lander

Image credits: Chongqing University