Samples of rock and soil from the moon have successfully landed on Earth for the first time in over four decades. Earlier today, Chinese government-owned media outlet Xinhua reported that the country’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission has successfully landed back on Earth with lunar samples onboard, making China only the third country to have ever collected lunar samples, and also the first one in 44 years after Russia achieved this feat in its unmanned Luna 24 mission back in 1976. The achievement harks back to the space race of the 1960s and 1970s, which led to unprecedented achievements made by both Russia and USA in space missions.
On November 24, four individual unmanned spacecrafts were launched towards the moon by China. The four included a landing module, an ascent module, an orbital module and a reentry module. On December 1, the landing and ascent modules touched down on the moon’s surface and drilled into it to raise dust and rocks and collected them in containers inside. Following this, the ascent module took off from the moon to rejoin the two remaining modules orbiting the moon. During the return journey, the moon samples were transferred from the ascent module to the reentry module, which then reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and landed in Mongolia earlier today.
The objective of the lunar surface material collection is reportedly to study a part of the moon named ‘Oceanus Procellarum’, which is believed to be much smoother than the rest of the lunar surface. Scientists believe that the difference in terrain may be linked to volcanic activity on the lunar surface, one which has happened fairly recently – in space time scale. As a result, studying of moon samples collected from this region will help scientists better understand the lunar surface as well as more details regarding its interaction with Earth.
However, it is not clear as of now as to how much lunar surface material was Chang’e-5 successful in collecting. Prior to launch, China had reportedly targeted collection of up to 4kg of moon rocks in a bid to carry out prolonged experiments and studies. So far, only USA has succeeded in conducting a manned mission to the moon to collect moon rock samples, during the iconic Apollo missions between 1969 and 1972.