Researchers have experimented with rice in space before. But the new experiment aboard the Tiangong is the first of its kind to attempt to replicate the entire life cycle of a plant, from a seed to a complete plant whose seeds can be used.
According to Zheng Huiqiong, a researcher at the Center of Excellence for Molecular Plant Sciences, since the experiment began on July 29, seedlings of the high-stem rice variety have grown to about 30 cm in height, and seedlings of the dwarf rice variety known as Xiao Wei have grown to 5 cm.
Shujianyang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In late July, China launched the Wentian Space Laboratory into orbit to dock with the Tianhe main module of the Chinese space station. To date, the space lab is the largest and heaviest spacecraft in the country. It is 17.9 meters tall and weighs 23 tons. On board are eight experimental payloads, one of which is for rice experiments.
China has been sending seeds of rice and other crops into space since the 1980s to improve their yields when planted on Earth. However, because of the harsh conditions of space, including microgravity, lack of air and radiation, producing rice in orbit is a daunting task.
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