Jan 08, 2018 I Brett Tingley

Chinese Scientists Are Sending Silkworms to Colonize the Moon

I mean we all know China is going to lead the 21st century, but now they’re just rubbing it in our sad little faces. Who knew a tyrannical one-party government would be able to crack enough eggs with its iron first to make the world’s largest human omelette? Progress heals all wounds, I suppose they’re telling themselves. China is proving itself capable of tackling nearly any engineering challenge at nearly any cost, and now the Middle Kingdom has its eyes cast upward on the icy, black reaches of space. China has several Mars missions planned for the next few years, a space station in orbit (for now), and has just finished constructing the world’s largest radio telescope. Now, Chinese news outlets have just announced that China will further its space program with a plan aimed at colonizing the moon - with insects, at least.

Hey, it's a start.

The People’s Daily reports that China’s second lunar lander, the Chang’e 4, will land on the moon’s surface with a miniature “eco-base” meant to test the viability of establishing colonies on the moon. According to Zhang Yuanxun, the module’s designer, the pod will contain several symbiotic organisms which could create a stable miniature ecosystem:

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.

Of course, there are some significant challenges the ecosystem will face, namely temperature control and protection from radiation. If it succeeds, however, the module could lead to tests of larger eco-modules. China’s Chang’e 4 will be sent to the South Pole-Aitken Basin, an 8-mile-deep (13 km) crater which stays in constant shadow. That region is of particular interest to space agencies who hope its abundant water ice could be of use to future colonists.

Chinese astronauts took already silkworms for a "spacewalk" aboard the Tiangong-2 space station last year.

Yeah that's neat and all, but I’m more interested in what the irradiated silkworms and potatoes might evolve into given a few million years after they’ve been forgotten on the cold, desolate surface of the moon. Is this how life on Earth started? Some abandoned alien science experiment? It certainly sounds a lot cooler than those other guys’ stories. Maybe if they had pamphlets about an ancient alien race’s potatoes and silkworms instead of some dead dude with a funny name and his witnesses, I wouldn’t have to spray them with my hose in the dead of winter to get them to leave.

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Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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