China successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft to explore part of the moon early Tuesday to become only the third nation to collect stones and debris from the lunar surface.
According to the ancient Chinese moon goddess named Chang’e 5, the four modules of the spacecraft were fired on a massive Long March 5Y rocket from the launch site of the Wenchang spacecraft in southern Hainan Province.
The ambitious mission aims to land the spaceship in an area called Oceanus Procellarum and seeks to collect lunar material by drilling 7 feet into the surface with its drill and robotic arm and scooping up about 2 kilograms of rock and earth. The sample is then transferred to a so-called ascender.
The materials are then transported to the return capsule to be returned to Earth. The information the samples can provide could help scientists understand more about the origin, formation, and solar system of the Moon in general.
The spaceship will reach the surface in about three days and stay there for one lunar day, which is about 14 Earth days, as it lacks the radioisotope heating units required to withstand the lunar icy nights.
If this succeeds, China will be only the third country to return lunar samples to join the United States and the former Soviet Union, and the first in over 40 years.
The mission also underscores China’s ambitions in space technology and attempts to improve its space program with the hope of having its own crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending people to the moon.
Chang’e 5 and future lunar missions aim to “provide better technical support for future scientific and exploration activities,” Pei Zhaoyu, mission spokesman and deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of China’s National Space Administration, told reporters at a briefing on Monday .
“Scientific needs as well as technical and economic conditions” would determine whether China decides to send a crewed mission to the moon, Pei said.
“I think future exploration activities on the moon will most likely be done in a human-machine combination,” he said.
As part of its space endeavors, the country successfully landed a spaceship on the other side of the moon in 2019, making it the first country to do so.
In July of this year, China became one of three countries to embark on a mission to Mars to look for signs of water on the red planet. The CNSA says the Tianwen 1 spacecraft is on its way to arrive on Mars in February.
Additional reporting by agencies