BEIJING, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) – Chinese space exploration began digging into the lunar surface hours after landing, with the desire to bring back the first lunar samples in four decades.
Beijing has poured billions into its military-led space program, hoping to have a space station by 2022 and eventually send humans to the moon.
The Chang-5 spacecraft, named after the Chinese moon goddess, touched down near the moon yesterday and is now collecting samples from the surface, the China National Space Administration said.
Chang-5 aims to collect lunar rocks and soil to help scientists study the origin, formation, and volcanic activity of the Moon.
If the return voyage is successful, China will be the third country to retrieve samples from the moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
This is the first time since the Luna 24 mission of the Soviet Union in 1976.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying described the mission as “revolutionary in enhancing human understanding of the moon’s history”.
The probe had completed drilling for the samples this morning and is now collecting surface samples as planned, China’s National Space Administration said.
Launched last week from the country’s southern province of Hainan, the spacecraft entered lunar orbit on Saturday after a 112-hour journey.
The state broadcaster showed lines of scientists controlled by the CCTV mission, wearing blue jackets with Chinese flags, monitoring the investigation and applauding after a successful descent.
A large screen in front of the room displayed images sent by the investigation of the gray lunar surface.
A special state media video released later showed the probe to the lunar surface.
‘Nothing is easy’
According to the science journal Nature, the spacecraft plans to collect two kilograms of material on the vast lava plain of the Oceanus Procellarium – or “Ocean of Storm” in a previously unexplored area.
The probe is designed to take samples from the lunar surface and to dig a hole two meters deep and collect samples there.
State media reported that the craft was preparing for “about 48 hours” of work on the lunar surface.
The U.S. space agency NASA says samples will be sent back to Earth on a pill programmed to land in December in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China.
CCTV reports that Chinese scientists are reconstructing patches on the lunar surface in a lab using footage from Chang-5 to better guide the spacecraft’s movements.
Footage from the broadcaster showed that shovels were used to shape the sand pit according to the contours of the lunar surface, wearing reality glasses developed by lab staff from the China Academy of Space Technology.
Jonathan McDowell, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told AFP last month that the mission was technically challenging, with many innovations not seen in previous attempts to collect lunar rocks.
Thomas Zurbuchen, a senior official at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, congratulated China on the landing.
“It’s not easy,” he tweeted. “When the samples collected on the moon return to Earth, we hope that everyone will be able to study this precious commodity that can carry the international scientific community forward.”
Under President Xin Jinping, China’s “space dream” as he calls it, plans to overtake
Beijing is trying to reunite with the United States and Russia after years of matching their space milestones.
China launched its first satellite in 1970, while it took decades for human space travel – Yang Liwei became China’s first “tycoon” in 2003.
A Chinese lunar rover landed on the far side of the moon in January 2019, boosting Beijing’s aspirations to become a global space superpower.
It includes the creation of a powerful rocket capable of delivering heavier payloads than NASA, a lunar base that can be handled by private rocket company SpaceX, and a permanently cruised space station.
Chinese tycoons and scientists talk about crude missions to Mars. – AFP