China launches Chang'e-5 mission to extract and bring lunar rock samples to Earth

Image via National Geographic

China successfully launched its Chang'e-5 mission on Monday whereby it is sending a spacecraft to the Moon to collect rock samples. If everything goes according to plan, the lander portion of the spacecraft will touch down on the lunar surface by the end of this week and will have approximately 14 days—or the length of a single day on the satellite—to collect the samples and bring them back to Earth.

The spacecraft took off from the Wenchang space site at Hainan Island in China on Monday. Unlike previous missions, China was open about live-streaming and consistently sharing information about the launch procedures. The entire event was live-streamed by Chinese state media without any delay, showing the growing confidence that the nation has in its space program.

The mission is being hailed as the most ambitious program in China's space history. Not only will it be the first attempt at collecting lunar rock samples in over forty years, but it also sets the nation on course to become only the third country to bring pieces of the moon back to Earth, joining the ranks of the U.S. and Soviet Russia who each completed this feat with the Apollo Missions and the Luna robotic landings, respectively.

China plans to land Chang'e-5 on the Mons Rümker, which is an isolated volcanic formation that is located in the northwest part of the Moon's near side. It's also much younger than the craters that the Apollo astronauts visited. Once there, the spacecraft is slated to retrieve more than four pounds of lunar samples. For contrast, the three successful Soviet Luna missions brought close to 0.625 pounds while NASA’s Apollo astronauts ferried 842 pounds of moon rock and soil back to the Earth.

From liftoff to touchdown back to Earth, the entire mission is scheduled to take less than a month. China hopes that the successful completion of Chang’e-5 will be a stepping stone towards establishing an international lunar research station before colonizing the moon by the next decade.

Source: The New York Times via Engadget

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