San Francisco Chronicle

Bei­jing launches mis­sion to re­trieve moon sam­ples

- By Sam Mcneil Sam Mcneil is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer. Space Research · Space Technology · Space · Spacecraft · Space Travel · Interplanetary Space Flights · Earth · Solar System · Science · Space Flights · Milky Way Galaxy · Beijing · United States of America · Russia · Russian Empire · Moon · Wenchang · Hainan · Naval War College

WEN­CHANG, China — China launched an am­bi­tious mis­sion on Tues­day to bring back ma­te­rial from the moon’s sur­face for the first time in more than 40 years — an un­der­tak­ing that could boost hu­man un­der­stand­ing of the moon and of the greater so­lar sys­tem.

Chang’e 5 — named for the Chi­nese moon god­dess — is the coun­try’s bold­est lu­nar mis­sion yet. If suc­cess­ful, it would be a ma­jor ad­vance for China’s space pro­gram, and some ex­perts say it could pave the way for bring­ing sam­ples back from Mars or even a crewed lu­nar mis­sion.

The four mod­ules of the Chang’e 5 space­craft blasted off at just af­ter 4:30 a.m. Tues­day atop a mas­sive Long March5y rocket from the Wen­chang launch cen­ter along the coast of the south­ern is­land prov­ince of Hainan.

The typ­i­cally se­cre­tive ad­min­is­tra­tion had pre­vi­ously only con­firmed the launch would be in late Novem­ber. Space­craft typ­i­cally take three days to reach the moon.

The mis­sion’s key task is to drill al­most 7 feet be­neath the moon’s sur­face and scoop up sev­eral pounds of rocks and other de­bris to be brought back to Earth. That would of­fer the first op­por­tu­nity to sci­en­tists to study newly ob­tained lu­nar ma­te­rial since the Amer­i­can and Rus­sian mis­sions of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Chang’e 5 lan­der’s time on the moon is sched­uled to be short. It can only stay one lu­nar day­time, or about 14 Earth days, be­cause it lacks the ra­dioiso­tope heat­ing units to with­stand the moon’s freez­ing nights.

The lan­der will dig for ma­te­ri­als with its drill and ro­botic arm and trans­fer them to what’s called an as­cen­der, which will lift off from the moon and dock with a ser­vice cap­sule. The ma­te­ri­als will then be moved to the re­turn cap­sule for the trip home to Earth.

The tech­ni­cal com­plex­ity of Chang’e 5, with its four mod­ules, makes it “re­mark­able in many ways,” said Joan Johnson-freese, a space ex­pert at the U.S. Naval War Col­lege.

“China is show­ing it­self ca­pa­ble of de­vel­op­ing and suc­cess­fully car­ry­ing out sus­tained high­tech pro­grams, im­por­tant for re­gional in­flu­ence and po­ten­tially global part­ner­ships,” she said.

The mis­sion is among China’s most am­bi­tious since it first put a man in space in 2003, be­com­ing only the third na­tion to do so af­ter Rus­sia and the U.S.

 ?? Mark Schiefelbe­in / As­so­ci­ated Press ?? The Long March5y rocket is seen just be­fore take­off from the Wen­chang Space Launch Cen­ter in China’s south­ern is­land prov­ince of Hainan.
Mark Schiefelbe­in / As­so­ci­ated Press The Long March5y rocket is seen just be­fore take­off from the Wen­chang Space Launch Cen­ter in China’s south­ern is­land prov­ince of Hainan.

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