China Moon probe lands on Earth carrying first lunar sample in DECADES as space race with US heats up

CHINA’S Moon capsule landed on Earth on Thursday carrying the first lunar samples in over four decades.

The haul of rock and dust offers the possibility of new insights into the Solar System and marks a new landmark for China’s space ambitions.


An unmanned spacecraft carrying lunar samples has landed in China[/caption]

The capsule of the Change 5 probe landed just before 6pm UK time in the Siziwang district of the Inner Mongolia region, the China National Space Administration reported.

The capsule had earlier separated from its orbiter module and performed a bounce off Earths atmosphere to reduce its speed before passing through.

It then floated to the ground on parachutes.

Following recovery, the capsule and its cargo of samples were flown to the space program’s campus in Beijing to begin the process of disassembly and analysis, the space administration said.


The capsule contained the first lunar samples in over four decades[/caption]

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The capsule of the Change 5 probe landed just before 6pm UK time in the Siziwang district of the Inner Mongolia region[/caption]

The mission achieved new firsts for the lunar exploration program in collecting samples, launching a vehicle from the moon’s surface and docking it with the capsule to return the samples to Earth.

“As our nation’s mostly complex and technically groundbreaking space mission, Chang’e 5 has achieved multiple technical breakthroughs … and represents a landmark achievement,” the space administration said.

Two of the Change 5’s four modules set down on the moon on December 1 and collected about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples by scooping them from the surface and drilling 2 meters (about 6 feet) into the moons crust.

The samples were deposited in a sealed container that was carried back to the return module by an ascent vehicle.

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The lunar rock and dust will now be examined by scientists[/caption]

Much to the amusement of viewers, footage run by state broadcaster CCTV showed a furry white animal, possibly a fox or rodent, running in front of the capsule as it lay on the ground.

The creature stopped briefly as if to inquire into the unfamiliar object.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in a statement read out at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, called it a major achievement that marked a great step forward for China’s space industry.

Xi expressed hope that mission participants would continue to contribute toward building China into a major space power and national rejuvenation, state-run Xinhua News Agency said.

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Artist impression of the land, which touched down on the lunar surface earlier this month[/caption]

Recovery crews had prepared helicopters and off-road vehicles to home in on signals emitted by the lunar spacecraft and locate it in the darkness shrouding the vast snow-covered region in China’s far north.

The region has long been used as a landing site for China’s Shenzhou crewed spaceships.

The spacecrafts return marked the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since the former Soviet Unions Luna 24 robot probe in 1976.

The newly collected rocks are thought to be billions of years younger than those obtained earlier by the U.S. and former Soviet Union.

AP:Associated Press

A capsule carrying lunar samples lifted off from the lander (artist impression)[/caption]

They therefore offer new insights into the history of the moon and other bodies in the solar system.

They come from a part of the moon known as the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, near a site called the Mons Rumker that was believed to have been volcanic in ancient times.

As with the 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of lunar samples brought back by U.S. astronauts from 1969 to 1972, they will be analysed for age and composition and are expected to be shared with other countries.

The age of the samples will help fill in a gap in knowledge about the history of the moon between roughly 1 billion and three billion years ago, Brad Jolliff, of Washington University in the U.S. city of St. Louis, said.


The probe collected rock samples from the lunar surface earlier this month[/caption]

They may also yield clues as to the availability of economically useful resources on the moon such as concentrated hydrogen and oxygen.

“These samples will be a treasure trove!” Jolliff said.

“My hat is off to our Chinese colleagues for pulling off a very difficult mission; the science that will flow from analysis of the returned samples will be a legacy that will last for many, many years, and hopefully will involve the international community of scientists.”

Change 5 blasted off from a launch base in Chinas southern island province of Hainan on November 24 and appeared to have completed its highly technically sophisticated mission without a hitch.

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The probe sent back stunning colour photos of the Moon[/caption]

It marked Chinas third successful lunar landing but the only one to lift off again from the moon.

Its predecessor, Change 4, became the first probe to land on the moons little-explored far side and continues to send back data on conditions that could affect a future extended stay by humans on the moon.

The moon has been a particular focus of the Chinese space program, which says it plans to land humans there and possibly construct a permanent base. No timeline or other details have been announced.

China also has joined the effort to explore Mars. In July, it launched the Tianwen 1 probe, which was carrying a lander and a robot rover to search for water.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States and its space program has proceeded more cautiously than the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures.

The Moon – our closest neighbour explained

Here's what you need to know…

  • The Moon is a natural satellite – a space-faring body that orbits a planet
  • It’s Earth’s only natural satellite, and is the fifth biggest in the Solar System
  • The Moon measures 2,158 miles across, roughly 0.27 times the diameter of Earth
  • Temperatures on the Moon range from minus 173 degrees Celcius to 260 degrees Celcius
  • Experts assumed the Moon was another planet, until Nicolaus Copernicus outlined his theory about our Solar System in 1543
  • It was eventually assigned to a “class” after Galileo discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter in 1610
  • The Moon is believed to have formed around 4.51billion years ago
  • The strength of its gravitational field is about a sixth of Earth’s gravity
  • Earth and the Moon have “synchronous rotation”, which means we always see the same side of the Moon – hence the phrase “dark side of the Moon”
  • The Moon’s surface is actually dark, but appears bright in the sky due to its reflective ground
  • During a solar eclipse, the Moon covers the Sun almost completely. Both objects appear a similar size in the sky because the Sun is both 400 times larger and farther
  • The first spacecraft to reach the Moon was in 1959, as part of the Soviet Union’s Lunar program
  • The first manned orbital mission was Nasa’s Apollo 8 in 1968
  • And the first manned lunar landing was in 1969, as part of the Apollo 11 mission

By taking incremental steps, China appears on the path toward building a program that can sustain steady progress.

The latest flight includes collaboration with the European Space Agency, which is helping to monitor the mission.

Amid concerns over the Chinese space programs secrecy and close military connections, the U.S. forbids cooperation between NASA and the CNSA unless Congress gives its approval.

That has prevented China from taking part in the International Space Station, something it has sought to compensate for with the launching of an experimental space station and plans to complete a permanent orbiting outpost within the next two years.

In other news, astronomers have created a “Google Maps of the Universe”.

Nasa hopes to peer back in time using the James Webb Space telescope.

And, Nasa recently revealed a surreal photo of Earth taken from 4billion miles away.

What do you think of China’s lunar mission? Let us know in the comments!

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