The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of China stated that Chang’e-5 “successfully landed” at the designated location after 11pm on Tuesday night (8:30pm Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday) after the power of its orbiter declined. It released images of barren scenes at the landing site, including places where the lander’s shadow can be seen.
The lander was launched from the tropical southern island of Hainan on November 24. This is the latest initiative of China’s space program. The program put the first astronaut into orbit in 2003, a spacecraft entered Mars, and the ultimate goal is to make humans land on the moon.
The plan calls for the lander to spend about two days drilling the lunar surface and collecting 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rock and debris. The sample will be lifted into orbit and transferred to the return capsule for earth travel, and will land on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia in the middle of this month.
If successful, this will be the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since Soviet exploration in the 1970s. Given that the US government strictly restricts space cooperation with China, it is not clear that these samples will be provided to scientists in other countries, although it is not clear how many visits NASA will get.
Scientists hope to learn more about the moon from rocks and debris, including its precise age, and more about other objects in our solar system. Collecting samples, including asteroids, is the focus of increasing attention in many space programs, and China’s mastery of this technology once again makes it one of the leading countries operating in space.
From 1969 to 1972, NASA’s Apollo space program brought back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar samples, some of which are still being analyzed and tested.
The Chang’e-5 flight is China’s third successful moon landing. Its predecessor, Chang’e-4, was the first probe to land on the far end of the moon. Chinese aerospace program officials said that they envision manned missions with robots in the future, including the possibility of establishing some kind of permanent space base for research. No timetable or other details were announced.
The latest flight includes cooperation with the European Space Agency, which is assisting in surveillance missions.
China’s space program was carried out more cautiously than the US-Soviet space race in the 1960s, which was characterized by death and launch failure.
In 2003, China became the third country after the Soviet Union and the United States to send astronauts into orbit on its own. It also launched a manned space station.
China and neighboring countries Japan and India have also joined the growing race to explore Mars. The “Tianjin 1” probe launched in July is passing through a red planet carrying a lander and a mobile station to search for water.
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