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China Lands Robotic Spacecraft on the Moon

With the intention of taking lunar samples, China has just taken the Chang’e-5 spacecraft to the moon for the third time, following successful missions in 2013 and 2019 when Chang’e-5 became the first spacecraft to have landed on the moon’s far side. The landings are part of China’s overarching plan to build a station for astronauts on the moon by 2030.

This time, the robot is to bring back 2 kilograms of rocks and dirt from the surface of the moon, to be analyzed by scientists upon return. No nation has brought back lunar samples since 1976 when the Soviet Union’s last robotic sampler, Luna 24, returned to Earth. Thus, China will be the third nation to retrieve lunar samples, after the United States and the former Soviet Union. The previous lunar samples helped scientists make great advancements in understanding how our solar system evolved, so new samples have been eagerly awaited during the last 40 years.

Chang’e-5 has landed on a part of the moon that is estimated to be younger than the areas sampled by Apollo and Luna, dated at about 1.2 billion years old. This newer material is expected to help scientists advance their techniques for geological dating of planet surfaces, moons and asteroids. It may also contribute to the testing of hypotheses about the cause of the volcanic nature of the moon. The mystery is that the moon holds a large amount of magma underneath its surface, but unlike Earth, the magma does not rise up in the form of active volcanoes.

With so much riding on this mission, Chang’e-5 has to complete the task in only one lunar day, which is the equivalent of 14 Earth days. It is not built to survive the extreme cold and darkness of night on the moon. Before the sun sets on the moon, it will return to orbit and then to the Inner Mongolia region of China in mid-December.

Key Terms

  1. Lunar samples

  2. Spacecraft

  3. Solar system

  4. Geological dating

  5. Hypotheses

  6. Magma

Key Questions

  1. Do you think it’s important for humans to do more research about the moon? Why or why not?

  2. What do you think about the possibility of there being a space station on the moon by 2030?

  3. Make a prediction: will Chang’e-5 complete the mission successfully? Why or why not?

  4. What would you do if you were given a sample of the moon?

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