Workers retrieve space experiments from the re-entry module of China’s new-generation manned spacecraft prototype during a ceremony in Beijing on May 29, 2022. SU DONG/FOR CHINA DAILY
Chinese astronauts have successfully grown rice seedlings onboard the Tiangong space station. They aims to produce the complete life cycle of the plant, which begins with a seed and ends with a mature plant producing new seeds. China launched the Wentian space laboratory into orbit on July 24 to dock with the Chinese space station’s Tianhe core module. The space lab weighs 23 tons and is 17.9 meters tall. Onboard are eight experimental payloads, including the one for the rice experiment. Since the rice experiment began on July 29, the seedlings of the tall shoot rice variety have reached a height of about 30 centimeters, and the seedlings of the dwarf rice variety grew to around 5 cm. Another experiment is with seedlings of Arabidopsis thaliana. The astronauts will keep monitoring the plants, and if the experiment is successful, they will collect the newly produced seeds and bring them back to Earth for further studies. An important issue is to observe 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.
Rice has been a staple food for astronauts since the early days of space exploration. US astronauts onboard the Apollo 11 mission, who were the first humans to land on the moon in July 1969, ate freeze-dried chicken and rice during their trip in space. But if astronauts will land on and explore Mars, bringing food from Earth is not enough to suffice for the astronauts’ long journey and mission in space.