China successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft on a mission to explore part of the moon early Tuesday, in an effort to become only the third country to collect rocks and debris from the lunar surface.
The Chang’e 5 spacecraft, named after the ancient Chinese moon goddess, launched a massive Long March-5Y missile from the Wenchang spacecraft’s launch site in southern Hainan Province.
The ambitious mission aims to land the spacecraft in an area called Oceanus Procellarum and will seek to collect lunar material by drilling 7 feet into the surface using a drill and robotic arm, sweeping about 2 kilograms of rock and soil. The sample will then be transported to a so-called ascent.
The materials will then be transported to a return capsule to be returned to Earth. The information that the samples can provide can help scientists understand more about the origins and composition of the moon and the solar system in general.
The spacecraft will reach the surface in about three days and stay there for one lunar day, which is about 14 Earth days because it lacks the radioactive isotope heating units needed to endure the frozen lunar nights.
If successful, China would be only the third country to return moon samples, joining the United States and the former Soviet Union, and the first in more than 40 years.
The mission also emphasizes China’s ambitions in space technology and its attempts to boost its space program, with the hope that it will have its own space station crew by 2022, and eventually send humans to the moon.
Bi Zhaoyu, a spokesman for the mission and deputy director of the Center for Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering of the China National Space Administration, told reporters at a press briefing on Monday that the Chang’e 5 mission and future lunar missions are aimed at “providing better technical support for future scientific and exploration activities.”
Mr. Bai said that “scientific needs and technical and economic conditions” will determine whether China decides to send a manned mission to the moon.
“I think that future exploration activities on the moon will likely take place in a mixture of man and machine,” he said.
As part of its space endeavors, the country also successfully landed a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon in 2019, becoming the first country to do so.
In July this year, China became one of three countries to launch a mission to Mars, in an effort to search for water signs on the red planet. CNSA says the Tianwen 1 spacecraft is on its way to Mars in about February.
Additional reporting by agencies