(ORDO NEWS) — Chinese engineers were making final preparations today, Monday 23 November, for the launch of a mission to return material samples from the lunar surface – for the first time in more than four decades – an enterprise that could expand our knowledge of the moon and the solar system as a whole.
The Chang’e 5 mission – named after the Chinese moon goddess – is China’s most ambitious lunar mission to date. If successful, this mission will be an important step for China on the path to sending a mission to recover samples from Mars or even a manned lunar mission.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said in a statement that the Long March 5Y rocket began fueling on Monday evening local time ahead of a launch scheduled between 4 and 5 a.m. on Tuesday (between 20:00 and 21:00 GMT on Monday) from the site of the Wenchang Cosmodrome, located on the southern island of Hainan.
As usual with the launch details under wraps, CNSA has previously only confirmed that the launch will take place in late November. Usually a spacecraft reaches the moon within three days.
The main goal of the mission is to drill a hole about 2 meters deep on the lunar surface and extract about 2 kilograms of soil to send to Earth, NASA reports. If successful, this will allow, for the first time since the American and Soviet lunar missions sent in the 1960s and 1970s, to obtain new lunar material for laboratory research.
The Chang’e-5 descent vehicle will be able to work on the lunar surface for no more than one lunar day, or 14 Earth days, since it does not have a radioisotope generator that prevents the systems of the apparatus from freezing on cold lunar nights.
The probe will select the materials using a robotic arm-manipulator and transfer them to the take-off module, which will leave the surface of the Moon and dock with the “service capsule”. The materials will then be transferred to a “return capsule” that will transport them to Earth.
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