Chinese astronauts onboard the Wentian space laboratory have successfully grown a variety of rice seedlings.
The Wentian space laboratory was docked with the Tiangong space station and launched into orbit on July 24. The space lab is China’s largest and heaviest spacecraft with a weight of 23 metric tons and a height of 17.8 meters.
The rice experiments began on July 29 and have since seen the rice seedlings of a tall shoot variety grow to about 30 centimeters, while a dwarf rice variety, known as Xiao Wei, has grown to about 5 centimeters.
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A researcher at the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Zhao Liping, stated that three astronauts are conducting the experiments and that they are running smoothly.
Another researcher at the Center for Excellence in Molecular Plant Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences explained that as the astronauts continue to monitor the plants, if the experiment runs successfully, they will return back to Earth with the newly produced seeds for further research.
“We want to investigate how microgravity can affect the plant flowering time on the molecular level and whether it is possible to use the microgravity environment to control the related process,” Zheng told China Daily. “But if we want to land on and explore Mars, bringing food from Earth is not enough to suffice for the astronauts’ long journey and mission in space. We have to find a sustainable food source for long-term space explorations.”
The experiment will provide insight into how astronauts can grow their own food while on long, extended space missions. Although rice experiments in space have previously been conducted, the Wentian space laboratory’s experiment is the first to attempt to produce the rice plant’s entire life cycle beginning with the seed and ending with a fully grown plant producing new seeds.