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Chinese probe collects rock samples from surface of the Moon

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The Chinese, like the rest of us, are mostly prohibited from travelling at the moment, but it hasn’t stopped them travelling to the Moon. A Chinese space probe has landed on the surface of the Moon to bring back the first lunar samples in nearly 5 decades. Since the US dropped its Apollo missions to the Moon in 1972, the Earth’s only natural satellite has been a bit lonely.

The Chinese space program  has poured billions into its space program, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon to establish an ongoing lunar base. No Chinese have been participating in the International Space Station.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft adds to a string of successes for Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program. Chang’e is the name for the mythical Chinese moon goddess. The probe touched down on the near side of the Moon yesterday. It will spend a total of 48 hours on the surface of the moon before re-uniting with it’s mother-ship which will then bring the lunar probe back to Earth.

The unmanned Chang’e-5 probe will collect lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity, the first such collections since the 1970s when an unmanned Russian lunar probe conducted a similar mission. The probe is the latest venture by a Chinese space program that sent its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.

If Chang’e-5 returns to Earth successfully, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

The probe was launched from China’s southern tropical island of Hainan last week and entered lunar orbit aver the weekend after a 112 hour journey. The probe will collect 2 kilograms of material in a previously unexplored area known as “Ocean of Storms”, a vast lava plain of grey rocks and dust.

The probe will collect samples from the surface and drill a 2 metre deep hole to gather soil and rock samples from beneath the lunar surface as well.

Thomas Zurbuchen, a NASA official from the mission directorate, says the mission was no easy task.

“When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community. Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5.”

The Chang’e 5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the Moon’s lesser-explored far side which is perpetually facing away from the Earth.

 

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