The chilling cold of the endless lunar night on the far side of the moon has killed off all hopes of scientists to grow plants on the Moon.
The Chinese experiment to grow cotton seedlings which germinated in a special tank attached to the Chang’e 4 lander died as the temperatures at the touchdown site plunged.
The experiment was designed to see how plants, fruit fly eggs and yeast would respond to the bitter cold, high radiation and low gravity.
Although the cotton seeds sprouted – to become the first new life on the Moon – the temperature swings proved too much for them to handle.
The Chinese have yet to reveal how the other experiments did.
The temperature fell to -52 Celsius.
China joins space race
Meanwhile, the lander is still working and is busily scurrying around the lunar surface close to the lander in the 115-mile wide Van Karman Crater.
The current mission is the latest in the Chinese lunar program.
Earlier Chang’e craft orbited the Moon in 2007 and 2010, while the Chang’e 3 lander-rover touched down on the near side to Earth in 2013.
Chang’e 5 will follow within 12 months to collect samples from the surface.
The landing is the first on the far side of the Moon and heralds China’s entry in to the space race.
Far side problems
Although the mission is an historic accomplishment, politically, the landing is meant to show China is a serious rival to the other super powers, with the resolve, money and knowledge to plan and execute an off-planet mission.
The far side is a tough target than the near side for exploration, because the Moon blocks direct communication with any landers or rovers. The Chinese have put a Queqiao satellite in orbit to relay signals to and from the Chang’e 4.
The satellite was launch in May 2018 in readiness for the current mission.
Contrary to common perception, the far side of the Moon is not in perpetual darkness. The surface receives as much light as the near side, but because the near side is locked facing the Earth, it seems dark as we never see it.