China launches lunar probe and is searching for the primary moon rock extraction because the 1970s
© Reuters. A partial lunar eclipse can be seen in Berlin
By Ryan Woo
BEIJING (Reuters) – China plans to take an unmanned spacecraft to the moon this week to bring back lunar rocks. This marks the first attempt by a nation to take samples from Earth’s natural satellite since the 1970s.
The Chang’e-5 probe, named for the ancient Chinese moon goddess, will attempt to collect material that can help scientists understand more about the origin and formation of the moon. The mission will test China’s ability to collect samples from space before remotely collecting more complex missions.
If the mission is successful, China will be the only third country to have sampled the moon after the US and the Soviet Union decades ago.
Since the Soviet Union’s Luna 2 crashed on the moon in 1959, the first man-made object to reach another celestial body, a handful of other countries, including Japan and India, have launched lunar missions.
As part of the Apollo program, which first put men on the moon, the United States landed twelve astronauts on six flights from 1969 to 1972, bringing back 150 pounds of rock and earth.
The Soviet Union deployed three successful robotic sample return missions in the 1970s. The last, the Luna 24, took 170.1 gram (6 ounce) samples from Mare Crisium or “Sea of Crises” in 1976.
China’s probe, slated to launch in the coming days, will attempt to collect 2 kg of samples from a previously unvisited area in a massive lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum or “Ocean of Storms”.
“While the moon’s Apollo Luna sample zone was critical to our understanding, it was conducted in an area far less than half the lunar surface,” said James Head, a planetologist at Brown University.
Subsequent data from orbital remote sensing missions revealed a greater variety of rock types, mineralogies, and ages than depicted in the Apollo Luna sample collections, he said.
“Lunar scientists have advocated returning robotic samples to these many different critical areas to answer a number of fundamental questions that have emerged from previous research,” Head said.
The Chang’e 5 mission can help answer questions about how long the moon remained volcanically active inside and when its magnetic field – the key to protecting all life forms from solar radiation – dissipated.
As soon as the probe is in orbit of the moon, it aims to bring a pair of vehicles to the surface: a lander drills into the ground and then transfers its soil and rock samples to an ascender, which takes off and docks with a rotating module .
If this is successful, the samples are transferred to a return capsule which will return them to Earth.
China made its first moon landing in 2013. In January 2019, the Chang’e-4 probe landed on the other side of the moon, the first of a nation’s spacecraft.
Within the next decade, China plans to set up a robotic base station for unmanned exploration in the South Pole region.
It is to be developed by the Chang’e-6-7 and 8 missions by 2020 and expanded by 2030 prior to manned landings.
China plans to get samples from Mars by 2030.
In July, China launched an unmanned probe to Mars on its first independent mission to another planet.