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  • Writer's pictureThe Big Magazine Staff

Chinese Astronauts Successfully Grow Rice in Space

By The Big Magazine Staff

Rice has newly been grown in microgravity, on board the newly launched Chinese Wentian space laboratory.

Arabidopsis thaliana growing on the Tiangong space station. Credit – Chinese Academy of Sciences

Wentian launched in July and joined up with the Tianhe module of China’s new space station. Its original complement of eight experiments included one that attempted to grow rice in microgravity. There were actually two types of rice launched as part of the experiment. A tall shoot variety reached almost 30 centimeters in the first month of growth, and a dwarf variety reached around 5 cm. Both of these growth amounts are on par for these particular rice varieties on Earth.

Rice typically grows to 3-4 ft over four months, and the stalks on Wentian have not been able to complete their entire maturation cycle since the experiment started in July. However, they seem to be on track compared to their Earth-bound counterparts.

Chinese Astronauts Successfully Grow Rice on the Tiangong space station. Credit – CGTN

Rice isn’t the only thing in the experiment, though. Scientists added Arabidopsis thaliana. It’s a common flowering plant typically used to study genetic mutations, which can be especially helpful when carrying out an experiment in space.

Rice and mutation studies both have a long history in spaceflight. The Apollo 11 astronauts ate freeze-dried chicken and rice during their journey to the moon. And any space-based farming effort will surely include rice. So this is a step in the right direction.

This isn’t the first time rice has been successfully grown in space. A team of students from Indonesia tested the effects of growing rice in microgravity on the ISS back in 2016.

The scientists hope to bring back seeds to Earth to study if there were any significant differences having been grown in microgravity. This experiments could be crucial to the future of growing crops in space.

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