China’s mission to the Moon returns with samples to study

Katie Ramirez
December 17, 2020

Earlier today, Chinese government-owned media outlet Xinhua reported that the country's Chang'e-5 lunar mission has successfully landed back on Earth with lunar samples onboard, making China only the third country to have ever collected lunar samples, and also the first one in 44 years after Russian Federation achieved this feat in its unmanned Luna 24 mission back in 1976.

The CNSA said all systems on the orbiter-returner combination are now in good condition.

Chinese ground crews are standing by for the return of a lunar probe bringing back the first fresh samples of rock and debris from the moon in more than 45 years. The China National Space Administration, typically secretive with its missions, showed growing confidence in its space program, with live broadcasts of the rocket launch and return of its sample capsule, which glowed bright white from its heat in the infrared cameras that spotted it.

Helicopters and off-road vehicles were ready and waiting to detect signals coming from the lunar spacecraft to locate the object amid a dark and snow-covered region in the far north of China, which has frequently been used as a landing site for the nation's Shenzhou manned spaceships.

Song 5 landed on the moon on December 1 and collected about 2 kg of samples by scooping from the surface and drilling 2 meters into the lunar surface. The samples were deposited in a sealed container that was carried back to the return module by an ascent vehicle.

A Chinese lunar capsule returned to Earth on Thursday with the first fresh samples of rock and debris from the moon in more than 40 years.

Flying a Chinese flag, the moon lander stopped functioning soon after it was used as a launching pad for the ascender, which was ejected from the orbiter after transferring the samples and came to rest on the moon's surface.

It marks China's third successful lunar landing, but the only one to be thrown back from the moon.

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The moon has been a particular focus of the Chinese space program, which has said it plans to land humans there and possibly construct a permanent base. No timeline or other details have been announced.

Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China's "space dream", as he calls it, have been put into overdrive. -Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures.

That site was chosen because it has a younger geological age than where samples collected by the US and the Soviet Union were taken more than 40 years ago.

"They have read, and admired the (U.S. lunar program) Apollo playbook, but learned format as well", said Joan Johnson-Freese, an expert on the Chines space program at the U.S. Naval War College. The landing took place on the north of the Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon.

China's achievement follows the United States and the Soviet Union, which both collected lunar samples decades ago.

The latest flight included collaboration with the European Space Agency, which helped monitor the mission.

NASA's Apollo astronauts collected hundreds of kilograms of lunar material between 1969 and 1972, but the USA space agency's next opportunity isn't expected to come until it sends an Artemis crew to the lunar surface, no earlier than 2024.

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