China lands spacecraft on moon to bring back lunar rocks in historic mission

China has successfully landed a spacecraft on the surface of the moon in a historic mission to retrieve samples of moon rocks, Chinese state media reported.

Launched on Nov. 24, the unmanned Chang’e-5 probe, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, aims to help scientists learn more about the moon’s origins.

According to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, it is not only the most complex mission in China’s aerospace history, it is also the world’s first lunar monster mission in more than 40 years.

The launch of the Long March-5, China’s largest launch vehicle, was at 04:30 in Beijing on November 23.

It was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the South China island of Hainan with the Chang’e-5 spacecraft.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) called the launch a success.

It added in a statement that the rocket flew for nearly 37 minutes before sending the spacecraft on its intended trajectory.

If the mission is successful, China would be one of only three countries to have collected lunar samples, along with the US and the Soviet Union.

The mission would make China, along with the US and the Soviet Union, the third country to reclaim the rocks

The mission – which is expected to last a total of 23 days – will see the spacecraft deploy a pair of vehicles to the lunar surface, namely a lander and a jetty, when it enters lunar orbit.

The lander would drill into the lunar surface and use a robotic arm to scoop out soil and rocks. The samples would then be transferred to the rising vehicle, which in turn must transfer the rocks to a return capsule for the return trip to Earth.

The landing is expected to take place in the Inner Mongolia region of China.

One of the most difficult steps for the spacecraft will be its “rapid return to Earth,” said mission spokesman Pei Zhaoyu at the time of the launch.

Moon as seen during Apollo 11

“The biggest challenges … are the sampling work on the lunar surface, the ascent from the lunar surface, the rendezvous and docking in the orbit of the moon, as well as the rapid return to Earth,” said Pei, also director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of the Space Administration.

“We can perform sampling through circumlunar and lunar landing surveys, but it is more intuitive to obtain samples for scientific research – the method is more direct,” added Pei. “In addition, there will be more tools and methods to study them on Earth.”

The United States, which currently has plans to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, landed 12 astronauts there in its Apollo program over six flights from 1969 to 1972, and brought back 382 kg (842 pounds) of rock and earth.

The Soviet Union deployed three successful robotic monster reentry missions to the moon in the 1970s. The latest, the Luna 24, obtained approximately 170 grams (6 ounces) of samples from a region called Mare Crisium in 1976.

China made headlines last year after its first landing on the far side of the moon before launching a robotic probe to Mars in July. It also aims to have a manned space station in service by 2022.

The part of the moon where Chang’e-5 is said to have landed is known as Mons Rumker – a volcanic region that’s 1-2 billion years old, according to Matt Siegler, a research scientist at the Arizona-based Planetary Science Institute who is not part is part of the mission.

“That’s very young for the moon – most of our samples are 3.5 billion years or older,” Siegler said, noting that the area and other similar areas represented a “late stage of volcanism” when the moon had enough internal heat. had for such activity. .

“We want to know what’s so special about these regions and why they stayed warm longer than the rest of the moon,” added Siegler.