Thursday, May 30, 2024

A Chinese capsule returning to Earth loaded with moon rocks

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Alan Binder
Alan Binder
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A Chinese lunar capsule returned to Earth on Thursday with the first new samples of rocks and debris from the moon in more than 40 years.

The Chang’e 5 probe capsule landed in the Siziwang district of Inner Mongolia, state media reported after 2:00 am (1800 GMT).

The capsule earlier separated from its orbital module and triggered a bounce off the Earth’s atmosphere to slow down before it passed through it and floated to the ground on parachutes.

Two of the four Chang’e 5 units were placed on the lunar surface on December 1 and collected about 2 kg (4.4 lb) of samples by pulling them from the surface and drilling 2 meters (about 6 feet) into the lunar crust.

The samples were deposited in a sealed container and transported back to the return unit by the boarding vehicle.

The successful mission was the latest achievement of an increasingly ambitious Chinese space program that includes a robotic mission to Mars and plans for a permanent space station in orbit.

Rescue crews prepared helicopters and off-road vehicles to return home based on the signals emitted from the lunar spacecraft and locate them in the dark enveloping the vast, snow-capped region in the far north of China, which has long been used as a landing site for the manned Chinese spaceships Shenzhou. .

The return of the spacecraft marked the first time that scientists had obtained new samples of lunar rocks since the former Soviet Union robotic probe Luna 24 in 1976.

The newly collected rocks are thought to be billions of years younger than those obtained in the earlier United States and the former Soviet Union, providing new insights into the history of the moon and other bodies in the solar system. It comes from a part of the moon known as Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, near a site called Mons Rumker believed to have been volcanic in ancient times.

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As with the 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of moon samples returned by US astronauts from 1969 to 1972, they will be analyzed in terms of age and composition and expected to be shared with other nations.

The age of the samples will help bridge a gap in knowledge about the history of the Moon between roughly one billion and three billion years ago, said Brad Golliffe, director of the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences at the University of Washington in St. Lewis said in an email. Golleve said they may also provide evidence of the availability of economically beneficial resources on the moon such as hydrogen and concentrated oxygen.

“These specimens will be a treasure trove!” Jolliff said. “My hat is raised to our Chinese colleagues for accomplishing a very difficult task; the science that will emerge from the analysis of the returned samples will be a legacy that will last for many years, and we hope will include the international community of scientists.”

Chang’e 5 took off from the launch base in the southern Chinese island province of Hainan on November 23 and appears to have technically completed its highly complex mission without a hitch.

This is China’s third successful landing on the moon, but the only one ever launched from the moon. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, became the first probe to land on the far side of the moon that has not been explored much and continues to send data about conditions that could affect humans’ future long stay on the moon.

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The moon has been a special focus of the Chinese space program, which says it plans to land humans there and possibly build a permanent base. No timeline or other details have been announced.

China has also joined the Mars exploration effort. In July, it launched the Tianwen 1 probe, which was carrying a landing craft and a rover robot to search for water.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States, and its space program proceeded with more caution than the US-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by deaths and casualties. Failure to launch. By taking incremental steps, China is showing on the path toward building a program that can maintain steady progress.

“They read the Apollo (US Lunar Program) book and liked it, but they learned the coordination as well,” said Joan Johnson-Frieze, a Chinese space program expert at the US Naval War College. “It’s better to go slow and build the infrastructure for the future than to do it quickly and end up with little to keep going.”

The latest flight includes cooperation with the European Space Agency, which helps monitor the mission. Amid concerns about the secrecy of China’s space program and close military ties, the United States bans cooperation between NASA and CNSA unless approved by Congress. This has prevented China from participating in the International Space Station, something it has sought to compensate for by launching an experimental space station and planning to complete a permanent orbit site within the next two years.

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