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China’s space program blooms

200 peony seeds carried in China’s Shenzhou III unmanned spacecraft during a flight in March and April have sprouted into seedlings 5 centimetres long.

Exposure to the weightless vacuum of space caused the seeds to undergo “special variation” resulting in unusually large and brightly coloured flowers leaves and stems within five years.

The program is not without risk. If the seeds varied too much, Xinhua warned, they could “deviate from their original form and might not look like a peony at all.”

China’s latest unmanned capsule, the Shenzhou IV, blasted off before dawn Monday in what could be the final test launch before a manned flight. China would be the third nation to put a human in space after the former Soviet Union and the United States, something the government and ruling Communist Party say shows China is rising.