BEIJING – China ground crews have been standing for over 40 years to land the first new specimens of rocks and soil from the moon.
The vehicle returning from the Chang 5 spacecraft is expected to land with samples late Wednesday or early Thursday in the Sijivang district of the vast Inner Mongolia region. The spacecraft fired its engines before disembarking from the return vehicle, with all systems operating as expected, according to the Chinese National Space Administration.
State media reported that the recovery of the return vehicle was complicated by its small size, dark and heavy snow. Plans are calling for an initial bounce from Earth’s atmosphere to slow it down before flying through the parachutes, making it difficult to calculate exactly where it will reach, according to the official Xinhua News Agency recovered leader Bean Hancheng’s staff.
State broadcaster CCTV showed four military helicopters stationed at a base in a snow-covered meadow as of Wednesday morning. Staff working in vehicles on the field also try to improve the signals. Despite its size, the area is well known for being used as a landing site for spacecraft by China’s Shenzhou crew.
Chang 5 landed on the moon on December 1 and collected 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples by scooping them from the surface and drilling 2 meters (approximately 6 feet) into the moon’s crust. The samples were deposited in a sealed container and transported back to the return module by the ascending vehicle.
Flying the Chinese flag, the lander ceased to function as soon as it was used as a launching pad, which was pulled out of orbit and rested on the lunar surface after the samples were transferred.
The spacecraft returns for the first time since 1976, when scientists obtained the latest models of lunar rocks after the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 robot probe.
On November 23, Chang 5 exploded from a launch pad in Hainan, China’s southern island province.
It marks China’s third successful lunar landing, but the only one to rise again from the moon. Its predecessor, Chang 4, became the first probe to land on the Moon’s less-explored long distance and continues to send back data on conditions that could affect the future expansion of humans on the Moon.
The moon is a special focus of the Chinese space program, which says it plans to land humans there and build a permanent base. No timeline or other details have been announced.
China has also joined in the effort to explore Mars. In July, it launched the Tianwen 1 probe, which will carry a lander and robotic rover to search for water.
China’s space program proceeded more carefully than the US-Soviet space race of the 1960s, marked by deaths and launch failures.
In 2003, China became the third country to launch an astronaut into orbit after the Soviet Union and the United States.
The latest aircraft is in collaboration with the European Space Agency, which will assist in monitoring the mission. Amid concerns over the secrecy of China’s space program and close military ties, the U.S. will suspend cooperation between NASA and CNSA unless Congress approves it. This prevented China from participating in the International Space Station, which sought to replace it with the launch of an experimental space center and plans to complete the Ptpost, which is in permanent orbit for the next two years.
The rocks and debris that Chang 5 brought back are thought to be billions of years older than those acquired by the US and the former Soviet Union, providing new insights into the history of the moon and other objects in the solar system.
They came from the moon known as Oceanus Procellarium or Ocean of Storms near a place called Mons Runker which was believed to be a volcano in ancient times.
Similar to the 382 kilograms (842 pounds) lunar specimens returned by U.S. astronauts from 1969 to 1972, they are analyzed for age and composition and shared with other countries.