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China reportedly to produce Yuegong-1 lab growing food in space
Last Updated: 2013-12-20 10:18 | CE.cn
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By Li Hongmei

China has achieved another breakthrough in its space program with the development of the Yuegong-1, a lab that simulates the cultivation of plants and micro-organisms on the moon, reports the Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Wei Po.

The Yuegong - which means "Moon Palace" in Chinese - is one of the world's most advanced Bioregenerative Life Support Systems, also known as Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems. Fittings were completed in late October at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

The moon's high radiation and low gravity environment is extremely difficult to simulate on Earth, says professor Liu Hong, who heads the Yuegong lab, which has already commenced experiments to grow food, fruits and vegetables to sustain astronauts in space.

The aim is for humans to be self-sufficient in space for months or years at a time allowing them to manage and regenerate limited resources such as food, water and oxygen. If successful, it would save governments billions of dollars as it is said to cost the United States government anywhere between US$10,000 to US$100,000 to send each kilogram of food supplies into space.

The task is more difficult than it appears as temperatures on the moon range from minus-175 degrees Celsius to 120 degrees Celsius, not to mention its low gravity and that parts of it can be covered in darkness for more than 10 days at a time. Any plants or micro-organisms produced to provide food and oxygen and the degradation of waste also need to be stable, fast-growing and provide high-volume produce.

While NASA is reportedly attempting to launch a mission to grow plants on the moon by 2015, China is said to have already completed a regenerative sustainable growth system that has successfully grown of more than a dozen types of foods such as wheat, rice, soybean, peanuts, peppers, carrots, tomatoes and coriander in a simulated space environment.

Last year, scientists from the China Astronaut Research and Training Center completed a 30-day experiment where two test subjects survived on the oxygen and food provided by a 36-square meter greenhouse filled with four types of edible plants. The Yuegong-1 is aiming to further this research in the hope of one day sending people to live on the moon.

Liu said more details of the Yuegong-1 will be unveiled around Chinese New Year, which falls on January 31, 2014.

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