On July 24, China launched the Wentian space laboratory into orbit to dock it with the Tianhe core module of the Chinese space station. The space lab is the nation’s largest and heaviest spacecraft to date; it measures 17.9 meters (58 feet) in height and weighs 23 metric tons. Eight experimental payloads are on board, one of which is for the rice experiment.
Rice is fine for now
According to Zheng Huiqiong, a researcher at the Center for Excellence in Molecular Plant Sciences, since the rice experiment started on July 29, the seedlings of the tall shoot rice variety have grown to a height of about 30 cm (12 inches) and the seedlings of the dwarf rice variety, known as Xiao Wei, have grown to about 5 cm (2 inches).
“The rice seedlings are growing very well,” Zheng said, adding that the experiment also contained seedlings of Arabidopsis thaliana, a small flowering plant of the mustard family often used by scientists to study mutations.
“We want to investigate how microgravity can affect the plant flowering time on the molecular level and whether it is possible to use the microgravity environment to control the related process,” she said. Flowering is a crucial stage for plant reproductive development.