According to CBS News, a Chinese spacecraft lifted off the moon on December third with a load of lunar rocks, the first stage of its mission. Chang’e 5 is the third spacecraft of the China National Space Agency (CNSA) on the moon, and the first to take off from it on a return mission.
Right before the lift-off, the lander unfurled the first free-standing Chinese flag on the moon. The space agency posted an image, apparently taken from the lander, of the ascent vehicle firing its engines as it took off.
The spacecraft “unfolded the five-star red national flag, a genuine one made from fabrics, marking a first in the country’s aerospace history,” State Media said.
The Chang’e 5 touched down December second on the Sea of Storms on the moons near side. Its mission is to collect around 4 pounds of lunar rocks and bring them back to Earth, the first return of samples since Soviet spacecraft accomplished this feat in the 1970s. Earlier, the U.S. Apollo astronauts brought back around eight hundred and fifty pounds of moon rocks.
The landing site is near a formation called the Mons Rumker and may contain rocks billions of years younger than those retrieved earlier.
The ascent vehicle lifted off from the moon shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time Thursday (7 a.m. PST) and was due to rendezvous with a return vehicle in lunar orbit, then transfer the samples to a capsule, according to CNSA. The moon rocks and debris were sealed inside a special canister to avoid contamination.
China is executing an incremental approach to its moon program, launching a series of increasingly complex robotic spacecraft to develop and test the propulsion, guidance, navigation, and landing systems needed for long-term exploration.
The Chang’e 1 and 2 missions successfully reached lunar orbit in 2007 and 2010 respectively, followed by the Chang’e 3 lunar lander in 2013 and Chang’e 4, which landed on the far side of the moon in 2019. Chang’e 5 is the first of two planned sample return missions and China’s most ambitious moon mission to date.
ARTICLE: JOSEPH MODICA
SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH
PHOTO CREDITS: CNSA/NASA