China Plans to Grow Plants and Insects on the Dark Side of the Moon
Did you know that profits from Pink Floyd's famous album, Dark Side of the Moon, helped fund Monty Python and the Holy Grail? How about the fact that Paul McCartney was originally supposed to sing on the album? Congrats! You now know more about that album than most people know about the actual dark side of the moon.
Sure, NASA has photographed the far side of the moon in the past, but no one has ever landed on it, much less explored it. That's supposed to change this year if China's ambitious new Chang'e 4 mission is successful.
The mission comes in two parts: the first part will launch in June and put a relay satellite into orbit 60,000 km behind the moon (meant to overcome the long-running difficulty of communication on the far side of the moon), while the second mission will launch a rover and lander to explore the surface. Included in this second launch will be a canister containing vegetables and insects—according to Zhang Yuanxun, who designed it:
"The container will send potatoes, arabidopsis seeds 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."
Chang'e 4 will be the first time anyone has ever landed on the far side of the moon. The planned location of the landing will be close to the Von Karman crater, the oldest (and largest) impact feature on the moon. The area around Von Karman also has abnormally high levels of thorium, which could serve as a potential nuclear fuel source in the future.
Chang'e 4, originally scheduled for 2015, is a precursor to China's stated goal of landing a human on the moon in the 2030s, an achievement that falls in line with their recent plans to become the world leader in space exploration. At the heart of those plans is its new generation of Long March-series rockets, which are slated to carry huge payloads and employ reusable components to make space exploration more efficient.
Aside from their moon missions, China has also announced a vague new, potentially nuclear-powered space shuttle and their intent to get into the business of asteroid mining, which may yield enough ore to make more than a million billionaires. Yes, you read that right—a single asteroid can be worth more than a quadrillion dollars.