After becoming the first country in the world to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, China is planning four more missions to get samples back before studying the feasibility of a lunar research base.
As part of a bid to investigate the Moon's potential to support future space travellers, cotton seeds - alongside potato seeds, rapeseed, yeast and fruit fly eggs - were placed in a sealed canister on board the lander to protect them from temperature extremes and radiation.
The rover's mission won't only be about snapping cool pictures; it's also scheduled to perform several experiments, including testing how plants will grow in the low-gravity environment, and exploring the moon's poles in search of water and other resources.
The crops are protected by temperature regulation and insulation within Chang'e-4's lander, shielding the them from the moon's harsh conditions.
The state-run China Daily said that was the first such form of cooperation since the 2011 US law was enacted.
During the 20-day journey from Earth to the far side of the moon, the cotton seeds and other plants were made dormant by "biological technology".
"This is the first time humans have conducted biological growth experiments on the lunar surface", he said.
The future launches will culminate with a mission to test equipment for an worldwide moon research base, Wu Yanhua, deputy chief commander of China's Lunar Exploration Programme, said at a press briefing. On 3 January, the probe took a variety of seeds in a bucket-like tin to the far side of the moon- including cotton, oilseed rape, potato, Arabidopsis and yeast - with hopes to cultivate biological matter. The three-kilogram container was designed by 28 Chinese educational institutions, and enabled the plants and organisms to have good air, nutrients, and water to sprout in an Earth-like environment. China's moon landing is a scientific achievement no doubt. The plants produced oxygen and food that are used to sustain the fruit flies.
"China, the U.S., Russian Federation and countries from Europe are all studying whether to set up a research base or station on the moon, like if we can build houses with lunar soil via 3-D printing technology", China's CGTN network quoted Wu as saying. That said, we shouldn't be discouraged from such project. To get around the challenge of communications, China put a satellite in lunar orbit to deliver signals to and from the lander.
Finally, the Chang'e-8 mission will test technologies and do "some preliminary exploration for countries to jointly build a lunar research base in the future", Wu said.