China is set to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the moon this week to bring the lunar rocks back in any country’s first attempt in decades.
The mission will test China’s ability to remotely obtain samples from space ahead of more complex missions. If successful, the mission will make China the only third country to take moon samples after the United States and the Soviet Union.
The Chang’e-5 probe, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to gather material that will help scientists better understand the moon’s origins and origins.
The Chinese probe, scheduled to launch in the coming days, will attempt to collect 2 kg (4 1/2 lb) of samples from a previously un-visited area in the vast lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum or ‘Ocean of Storms’.
The Chang’e-5 mission can help answer questions such as the time the Moon remained volcanically active inside and when its magnetic field – crucial to protecting all life from the sun’s radiation – was dissipated.
Once in orbit of the moon, the spacecraft will aim to deploy two vehicles on the surface: the lander will drill into the ground, then carry soil and rock samples to the riser which will rise and dock with the orbiting module.
If successful, the samples will be transferred to the Return Capsule, which will return them to Earth.
China first landed on the moon in 2013. In January 2019, the Chang’e-4 spacecraft landed on the far side of the moon as the first space probe of any country.
China plans to build an automated base station for unmanned exploration in the southern polar region over the next decade.
It is to be developed as part of the Chang’e-6, 7 and 8 missions by the 1920s and extended to the 1930s, prior to a manned landing.
China plans to recover samples from Mars by 2030.
In July, China launched an unmanned spacecraft to Mars as part of its first independent mission to another planet.
Since the Soviet Union crash-landed Luna 2 on the moon in 1959, the first man-made object to reach another celestial body, several other countries, including Japan and India, have started missions to the moon.
As part of the Apollo program, which first put humans on the moon, the United States landed 12 astronauts in six flights between 1969 and 1972, bringing in 382 kg (842 lb) of rock and earth.
During the 1970s, the Soviet Union dispatched three successful robotic sample return missions. The last, Luna 24, recovered 170.1 grams (6 ounces) of samples in 1976 from Mare Crisium, or “Sea of Crisis.”