China's ambitious lunar mission Chang’e 5 successfully landed on the Moon on Tuesday, marking the third time that the country has placed a robotic spacecraft on the lunar surface. Chang’e 5 was launched from China’s Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on November 23, 2020, flying to space on top of a Long March 5 rocket.
The Chinese lunar mission is a complex one as it consists of four main spacecraft that will work together to bring between 2 to 4 kilograms of lunar dirt back to Earth. You might be wondering why the need arose to send another lunar mission when man had already stepped on the Moon in 1969.
Let's take a look:
Why does China want to bring back Moon rocks?
After the United States and Russia, China would be the third nation to bring rocks back from the Moon. However, the rocks brought back by the US and Russia are much older, around 3.2 billion years. Bagging rocks from the location where China has landed its spacecraft will help scientists to more accurately date the Moon.
According to Jonti Horner, an astronomer at the University of Southern Queensland, scientists currently date the surface of the Moon by the number and density of craters in the area, and the Moon rocks from the missions that we already have. The new collection of rocks will give an understanding of when the Moon stopped being active. It will give scientists a better idea about the evolution and potential of life in both our solar system and alien systems.
How will Chang’e 5 bring the rocks back to earth?
The Chang'e 5 is a solar-powered lander and has just 14 Earth days of sunlight to work. Out of those 14 days, five days have already elapsed so it needs to be quick. In the next two days, the lander will collect dirt from the lunar surface with a robotic arm, and drill up to 2 metres below the surface and shift the samples into an ascent vehicle.
The solar-powered ascent vehicle will then blast off the top of the lander. After the ascent vehicle docks and the rocks are transferred to the return spacecraft, the ascent vehicle will be jettisoned and the spacecraft begins its return journey.
Apart from rocks, what else will the mission achieve?
The Chinese lunar mission is also testing out technologies that will be needed for future missions to the Moon as well as Mars. According to ABC Science, the technology used in this mission for functions like navigation, landing, docking in space and re-entering earth will also help with crewed missions in future too.
China had said that it plans to send humans to the Moon and have a permanent base there by the end of the decade. The country is also planning to work out something similar on Mars. China has sent a spacecraft flying to the Red Planet, with the aim of touching down in May next year. If it succeeds, it will be the third nation to have robots on Mars. The country hopes to bring back material from Mars by 2030.