EFor the first time in decades, a space probe has landed on the moon to take rock samples. It is the first time that China has undertaken such a rock-collecting mission on the moon – and is considered an important step in the nation’s ambitious space program.
A lander of the space probe named after the Chinese moon goddess “Chang’e 5” landed “successfully” on the surface on Tuesday, as China’s state news agency Xinhua and the state broadcaster CCTV unanimously reported. The aim of the Chinese mission is to bring rock samples back to earth for the first time in 44 years. On a successful return to earth, China would be only the third nation after America and the Soviet Union to have succeeded in such an undertaking.
“Chang’e 5” was launched on November 23 (German time) from the space station in Wenchang on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. A greater challenge for the researchers than the arrival on the moon, where Chinese probes had landed twice before, is the further course of the mission.
At 8,200 kilograms, the “Chang’e 5” is the largest spacecraft in the “Chang’e” fleet to date and consists of four modules: the orbiter with the return capsule and the lander with the ascent stage. After touching down on the lunar surface, the lander is supposed to use a long arm to collect lunar rocks and samples from holes up to two meters deep and stow them in a chamber. This action should take two days. Then the return journey is due.
The plan is to bring around two kilograms of material back to earth. Researchers hope that the samples will provide new information about the volcanic activity of the moon. For comparison: the American Apollo missions brought with them around 380 kilograms of lunar rock. The Soviet Union collected around 300 grams with unmanned missions.
China has an ambitious space program. The plan is not only to send people to the moon again in the medium term. A Chinese probe is currently on its way to Mars. In addition, the construction of a space station is to begin next year. In the current lunar journey of the Chinese, space experts see not just a geological mission, but an important technology test, for example for future manned flights to the moon.
“Chang’e 5” is the Chinese’s second moon mission in two years. In January 2019, China landed as the first space travel nation with “Chang’e 4” on the relatively unexplored far side of the moon. A rover has been abandoned to continue exploring the surface. With “Chang’e 3”, the Chinese landed a probe on the front of the Earth’s satellite in 2013 – far later than the Russians and Americans. After unmanned probes, America also brought twelve astronauts to the moon between 1969 and 1972.