Chinese technicians were making final preparations Monday for a mission to bring back material from the moon’s surface for the first time in nearly half a century – an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally.
Chang’e 5 – named for the Chinese moon goddess – is the country’s most ambitious lunar mission yet. If successful, it would be a major advance for China’s space programme, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission.
The four modules of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft are expected be sent into space Tuesday aboard a massive Long March-5 rocket from the Wenchang launch centre along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan, according to a NASA description of the mission.
The secretive Chinese National Space Administration has only said that a launch is scheduled for late November, although the Lunar Exploration Project said in a statement Monday that success in orbiting, descending and returning would “lay a solid foundation for future missions.”
The mission’s key task is to drill 2 meters (almost 7 feet) beneath the moon’s surface and scoop up about 2 kilograms of rocks and other debris to be brought back to Earth, according to NASA. That would offer the first opportunity to scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s.