China Prepares for Moon Colony By Keeping Students in 'Lunar Palace' for 200 Days

Two teams each of four volunteers are participating in a Moon simulation. Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Four Chinese students have just wrapped up a 200-day simulation of living on the moon, another step in the country's ambitious lunar exploration agenda meant to culminate in establishing a space station within a few years and a real moon base in a decade or so.

The simulation didn't necessarily go to plan, according to AFP, with three blackouts, but apparently did go smoothly enough to avoid stopping the excursion midway through the simulation. This was the second in a series of three simulations announced last May. A second team of four students preceded this team for a two-month stay and have now returned to the base for another 105 days.

The students stayed in a lab called Yuegong-1, or 'Lunar Palace,' a 1,720-square-foot facility that is focused on developing ways of feeding astronauts without sending additional supplies up to the moon. According to Quartz, the food that can be grown in the simulation site includes wheat, potatoes, carrots, string beans, and onions. The crew also eats mealworms, which act as protein for the astronauts as well as helping support the plants being grown.

In addition to testing the food supply systems, which grow plants using waste from the pseudo astronauts, the long stay is also designed to provide insight into how people handle the psychological stress of being trapped in a small space with the same handful of people for long periods of time without sunlight.

The Lunar Palace simulations are just one piece of China's continuing focus on moon exploration. Later this year, China wants to put a lander on the far side of the moon, a technologically tricky maneuver that has never been accomplished before. They also have a longer-term mission designed to bring samples of the moon back to Earth, although that spacecraft has faced delays due to a rocket malfunction.

Read more: China Plans Far Side of the Moon Landing for 2018 in World First

While the Yuegong-1 facility is relatively new, having begun operations in 2013, space agencies around the world have a long tradition of creating simulation sites where would-be astronauts can stay isolated from Earth's support without also dealing with challenges like microgravity.

Recent destinations for NASA's terrestrial explorers include Antarctica, where astronauts' doctors get a chance to experience something like the circumstances of their patients, and Hawaii, where astronauts can conduct geological research that mirrors what would take place on Mars.