The Atlantic

How Do Plants Grow in Space?

For humans to survive off Earth, we’ll need vegetables to eat and flowers to admire.
Source: Tim Kopra / NASA

Earlier this month, tiny green plants sprouted on the moon.

The plants arrived as cotton seeds, tucked inside of Chang’e 4, a Chinese spacecraft that had landed, in a historic first, on the far side of the moon, the side that never turns toward Earth. The seeds came with the comforts of home: water, air, soil, and a heating system for warmth. Huddled together, the seedlings resembled a miniature, deep-green forest. A hint of life on a barren world.

And then, about a week later, they all died.

Lunar night had set in. Without ample sunlight, surface temperatures near the spacecraft plummeted to –52 degrees Celsius (–62 degrees Fahrenheit).

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPsychology
Dear Therapist: My Husband and I Don't Have Sex Anymore
The Atlantic6 min read
In Defense of Big Little Lies’ Second Season
The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
The Dirty Secret of Mueller’s Testimony? Voters Might Not Care.
Rather than expecting fireworks from the former special counsel’s appearance before Congress, many seem wary of getting their hopes up.