China launches Chang’e-5 Moon sample return mission
A Long March 5 rocket launched China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft Monday to kick off a 23-day mission to deliver the first lunar samples to Earth since the 1970s.
The mission aims to collect the youngest samples so far obtained from the moon and later land in Siziwang Banner, Inner Mongolia, around Dec. 15-16. Samples will then be transferred to specially developed facilities for handling, analyzing and storing the lunar material.
A successful mission would make China only the third country to deliver lunar samples to Earth, after the U.S. Apollo crewed program and Soviet robotic Luna missions of the 1960s and 1970s.
The only country to land on the Moon for over 40 years
This mission to collect and return samples is impressive. Recent failed landings on the Moon by an Israeli privately funded mission and the Indian Vikram lander show just how challenging such missions still are.
Chang’e 5 (named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon) is intended to collect samples from Mons Rümker, a 70km-wide, 500 metre- high dome made of basalt in the Oceanus Procellarum Mare region of the Moon’s nearside.
The plan is to then bring back 2kg of drilled and scooped samples to Earth. If the mission succeeds, planetary scientists will be able to test some key theories about the origin of the Moon and the inner Solar System’s rocky planets, which date back to the Apollo era.
Image courtesy malith d karunarathne on Unsplash