As the third space travel nation after the USA and the Soviet Union, China brought moon rocks to earth for the first time.
After the unmanned lunar mission, the capsule of the spaceship “Chang’e 5” landed today with around two kilograms of lunar samples in the north Chinese steppe, as reported by state television. It is the first time in 44 years that moon rocks have been brought back to earth.
Rescue teams with helicopters and vehicles equipped with powerful searchlights set off to find the capsule in the Siziwang banner in Inner Mongolia. The search was made difficult by the nocturnal darkness and harsh winter weather with snow, wind and temperatures of more than minus 20 degrees. The capsule is only a seventh the size of manned Chinese spaceships.
At the same time, the landing area was 16 times larger than usual because the capsule had used the “hopping re-entry” method into the earth’s atmosphere to avoid excessive heat and damage. The elongated trajectory is reminiscent of a bouncing stone thrown at a flat angle over a water surface. This makes the landing point more difficult to predict. The landing zone was 21,000 square kilometers.
Milestone in China’s space history
The moon mission was “one of the most difficult in China’s space history,” as it was officially called. “Chang’e 5” consisted of a lander and an ascent module as well as an orbiter and the capsule for the return. As the first space travel nation, China was able to perform a robot-controlled docking maneuver without astronauts in the orbit of the Earth’s satellite when the ascent module reconnected to the orbiter after the moon landing and loaded the lunar rocks. The flight was also an important preparation for a manned moon landing, which China plans by the end of the decade.
Researchers are eagerly awaiting the lunar rock, which is much younger than any previously collected samples from the USA and the Soviet Union. The investigation could provide new insights into volcanic activity and the history of the moon. The US Apollo missions brought back around 380 kilograms of lunar rock. The Soviet Union collected around 300 grams with unmanned missions.