China’s Chang’e-5 moon mission has successfully returned samples from the moon to Earth. The mission’s success is a huge boost for China, making it just the third country to ever bring back samples from the moon.
Yesterday, China reported that the capsule carrying lunar samples back from its mission to the moon had landed safely in Mongolia. The recovery marked a successful end to a trip that lasted just over three weeks.
The Chang’e-5 is China’s third mission to land on the moon, and its first to collect samples. Unlike the US efforts to collect moon samples in the 1960s and 1970s, there were no astronauts on this trip. The mission was run using robotic machines.
The Chang’e-5 was launched on November 23. On December 1, its lunar lander and ascent vehicle touched down on the moon’s surface. The lander had to work quickly because it wasn’t built to stand up to the extremely cold temperatures of the lunar night for very long.
The Chang’e-5’s lander collected lunar soil and rock samples from the surface, as well as drilling down 6.5 feet (2 meters) into the moon to collect other samples. After about 19 hours on the moon’s surface, the ascent vehicle lifted up off the moon again.
On December 5, the ascent vehicle docked with the orbiter, which was orbiting above the moon while the lander was at work on the surface. The docking process was completely automatic, which was another first for China. The orbiter then began returning to Earth.
Yesterday, as the Chang’e-5 came close to Earth, the orbiter released the capsule carrying the moon samples. As planned, the capsule bounced off of the Earth’s atmosphere once before breaking through it and finally falling to earth in Inner Mongolia.
In all, the Chang’e-5 collected about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of samples. Some of the samples will be kept at Hunan University. The rest will be split up among scientists so they can be studied.
Scientists are especially interested in learning how old the samples are and how they have changed over time. They think the area where the Chang’e-5 landed is one of the youngest lava flows on the moon.
Figuring out how old the rocks are in this area will help scientists get a better idea of the age of almost everything else in space.
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One thing that’s gotten a lot of attention is the important part played by young women in the Chang’e-5 program. Many people were impressed with a female space commander named Zhou Chengyu. She was in charge of the mission’s rocket connector, and she’s just 24 years old.
The Chang’e-5 mission has made many Chinese people excited and proud of their country’s success. More than anything, the mission has shown that China has a first-rate space program that is able to compete with other nations.
Did You Know…?
All of China’s moon missions are named for the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e. Last year, China’s Chang’e-4 mission landed a lunar rover on the far side of the moon – something that had never been done before.
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