China plans to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the moon this week to bring back lunar rocks. This is the first attempt by any country to obtain samples from Earth’s natural satellites since the 1970s.
The e’e-5 probe, named after the ancient Chinese lunar goddess, will seek to collect materials that will help scientists further understand the origin and formation of the moon. The mission will test China’s ability to remotely obtain samples from space before more complex missions.
If successful, the mission will make China the third country to retrieve lunar samples after the United States and the Soviet Union decades ago.
Since the Soviet Union dropped Luna 2 on the moon in 1959, it was the first man-made object to reach another celestial body. Many other countries, including Japan and India, have also launched missions to the moon.
In the Apollo program that first landed humans on the moon, the United States landed 12 astronauts in six flights between 1969 and 1972, bringing back 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of rock and soil.
The Soviet Union successfully deployed three successful robot sample return missions in the 1970s. The last one is Luna 24. In 1976, 170.1 grams (6 ounces) of samples were recovered from Crisium, a mare of the “Sea of Crisis”.
The Chinese probe is scheduled to launch in the next few days. It will attempt to collect 2 kilograms (4 1/2 pounds) of samples from a previously undiscovered huge lava plain called Oceanus Procellarum or ” Storm Ocean”.
James Hyde, a planetary scientist at Brown University, said: “The Lunar Apollo-Luna sample area, which is vital to our understanding, was carried out on less than half of the lunar surface.”
He said that follow-up data from the orbital remote sensing mission showed that the diversity of rock types, mineralogy, and age is greater than that in the Apollo-Luna sample collection.
The head said: “Moon landing scientists have always advocated returning robot samples to many different key areas in order to solve many basic problems remaining in the early exploration.”
‘The E-5 mission may help answer questions such as how long the moon remains volcanic in its interior and when to dissipate its magnetic field (the magnetic field is the key to protecting any form of life from solar radiation).
Once in lunar orbit, the probe’s goal will be to deploy a pair of aircraft to the ground: the lander will drill into the ground and then transfer its soil and rock samples to the ascender, which will lift off and dock with the orbital module.
If successful, the sample will be transferred to the return capsule, and then returned to Earth.
China first landed on the moon in 2013. In January 2019, the E-4 probe landed on the far side of the moon, the first time a space probe of any country has conducted it.
In the next ten years, China plans to build a robot base for unmanned exploration in the Antarctic region.
The aircraft will be developed through the’E-6, 7 and 8 missions in the 2020s, and will be expanded in the 2030s before anyone can land.
China plans to obtain samples from Mars by 2030.
In July, China conducted an unmanned exploration of Mars during its first independent flight to another planet.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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