China has again landed on the moon and now the nation intends to bring home some souvenirs.
Chang’e 5, China’s first-ever sample-return mission, successfully touched down on Dec. 1 in the moon’s Ocean of Storms region, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) confirmed in a statement. The state-run CGTN news channel earlier declared the landing success.
Chang’e 5 touched down on the moon at 10:11 a.m. EST (1511GMT, 11:11 p.m. Beijing Time) near Mons Rümker, a mountain in the Ocean of Storms (or Oceanus Procellarum), CNSA authorities said. The probe deployed its solar array and antenna soon to commence its work on the moon.
Two pieces of the four-module, 18,100-lb. (8,200 kilograms) Chang’e 5 mission hit the grey dirt, a stationary lander and an ascent vehicle. If everything goes in accordance to schedule, the lander will spend the next few days collecting about 4.4 lbs. (2 kg) of lunar material, some of it dug from up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) below the lunar surface.
The sample will then be transferred to the ascent vehicle, which will be released to lunar orbit and meet up with the other two Chang’e 5 elements, an orbiter and an Earth-return craft. The return vehicle will haul the moon dirt and rocks to our planet, with a touchdown scheduled in Inner Mongolia during mid-December.
That will be a pathbreaking event as pristine lunar samples have not been sent to Earth since 1976 when the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission came home with approximately 6 ounces (170 grams) of material.
The compressed timeline is due to the mission’s energy needs. The Chang’e 5 lander is solar-powered, so it must get all of its work done within two Earth weeks at most before the sun sets at Mons Rümker.
Chang’e 5 is the newest mission in the Chang’e program of robotic lunar exploration, which is named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology. The Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiters launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and Chang’e 3 put a lander-rover duo down on the moon’s near side in December 2013.
Chang’e 5 isn’t the sole sample-return game in town. Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission is planned to deliver pieces of the asteroid Ryugu to Earth on Dec. 5, and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx probe accumulated samples of the space rock Bennu during late October. The Bennu samples are scheduled to reach home in September 2023.