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‘China Launches Chang’e-5 Moon Probe to Bring Back Lunar Rocks’

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    1st Dec, 2020

Context

China successfully launched its Chang'e-5 lunar mission to collect rocks from the moon - the first attempt by any country since the 1970s.

About

  • The Chang'e-5 probe will attempt to collect 2 kilograms (4.5 pounds) of samples in Oceanus Procellarum.
  • Composition: The spacecraft is made up of an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner.
  • Time-period: From start to finish, the mission will last more than 20 days.
  • Once in the moon's orbit, the probe will deploy a pair of vehicles to the surface to drill into the ground and collect soil and rock samples.
  • If successful, the mission will make China only the third country to have retrieved lunar samples, following the United States and the Soviet Union decades ago.

Chang’e Program

  • Chang’e 5, China’s first-ever sample-return effort, is the sixth and most ambitious mission in the Chang’e program of robotic lunar exploration, which is named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology.
  • China launched the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiters in 2007 and 2010, respectively, and the Chang’e 3 lander-rover duo touched down on the moon’s near side in December 2013.
  • The Chang’e 5T1 mission launched a prototype return capsule on an eight-day trip around the moon in October 2014, to help prepare for Chang’e 5.
  • And in January 2019, Chang’e 4 became the first mission ever to ace a soft landing on the moon’s mysterious far side.
  • Chang’e 4’s lander and rover are still going strong, as is the Chang’e 3 lander. (The Chang’e 3 rover died after 31 months of work on the lunar surface.)

Where will it land?

  • The mission will land in the Mons Rumker area of the huge volcanic plain Oceanus Procellarum ("Ocean of Storms"), portions of which have been explored by a number of other surface missions, including NASA’s Apollo 12 in 1969.
  • It is a massive lava plain.
  • This large dark spot, stretching about 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) wide, could be a scar from a giant cosmic impact that created an ancient sea of magma.

The previous attempts

  • US astronauts brought back 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of rocks and soil during the Apollo program, between 1969 and 1972.
  • The Soviet Union collected 170.1 grams (6 ounces) of samples in 1976.
  • In the decades since data from orbital remote sensing missions has shown there is a much greater diversity of rock types and ages on the moon than existing samples suggest.

Significance of the mission

  • These samples could help scientists understand more about the moon's origins and foundations and set the foundation for more complex sample retrieval missions in the future, potentially on other planets.
  • The mission may help answer questions such as how long the moon remained volcanically active in its interior, and when its magnetic field -- key to protecting any form of life from the sun's radiation - dissipated.
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