China launches lunar mission

Journey includes bringing back moon rocks


World News

November 24, 2020 - 10:19 AM

A Long March 5 rocket carrying China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe launches from the Wenchang Space Center today, Nov. 24, on a mission to bring back lunar rocks, the first attempt by any nation to retrieve samples from the moon in four decades. Photo by (AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

BEIJING — China has launched a Long March 5 rocket on an unmanned moon mission to retrieve a lunar sample, the first such endeavor by a country in more than four decades.

The rocket carrying the robotic Chang’e 5 spacecraft left from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southern Hainan province early on Tuesday morning.

After it lands on the moon, the mission hopes to also bring moon rocks back to Earth, making China only the third country to do so after the United States and the Soviet Union.

This is China’s most ambitious moon mission to date and follows the Chang’e 4 mission last year, which achieved the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon.

The Chang’e 5 spacecraft, named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, weighs 8,200 kilograms, about 18,000 pounds, and has four components: an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a reentry module.

Ninety minutes after lift-off, the spacecraft unfurled its solar sails, which generate electricity.

Soon after, the control center’s commander, Zhang Xueyu, announced the “full success” of the Chang’e 5 launch.

The U.S. space agency NASA congratulated China on the launch.

“Congratulations to China on the successful launch of Chang’e 5 to the Moon. We look forward to seeing how this sample return will advance the international science community,” NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted.

The spaceship is expected to land Sunday in a volcanic area named after German astronomer Karl Ruemker (1788-1862), which is located in the “Ocean of Storms” area on the earth-facing side of the moon.

After the probe reaches lunar orbit, the spacecraft is set to separate into two parts, with the orbiter and reentry module remaining in orbit while the lander and ascender are supposed to land on the moon, according to the state-run newspaper Global Times.

The probe is set to collect underground rocks and surface soil, after which the ascender will lift off to orbit using a rocket and dock with the reentry module.

The official Chinese new agency Xinhua characterized the mission as “one of the most complicated and challenging … in China’s aerospace history.”

The last lunar sample-return mission was the Soviet Union’s Luna-24 in August 1976, which brought 170.1 grams of lunar samples back to Earth.

China in July also launched its first independent mission to Mars, part of the country’s ambitious space program, which also includes building its own space station by 2022 and sending an exploration mission to Jupiter by 2029.