China sends Chang’e 5 spacecraft to the moon . . .
China successfully launched its Chang’e 5 mission to the moon today. Sent from the Wenchang Space Centre in Hainan, the Chang’e spacecraft is powered by a Long March 5 rocket. The mission’s goal is to bring back two kilograms of soil and rock samples from an unexplored area of the moon to help scientists learn about the orbiting body’s origins and the volcanic activity on its surface. The spacecraft is set to return to earth on December 14. If successful, China would become the third country, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, to complete such a feat. The mission’s complexity should not be underestimated; it will include many firsts for China, including the return of a spacecraft from the moon.
China’s space program . . .
Beijing has been investing massively in its space program for years. While also involved in exploring Mars, China’s moon exploration program is the most advanced. In January 2019, China became the first country to land on the moon's far side, and it could be the first country to bring back samples from the moon in 44 years. China is planning three more missions within the next decade to explore the moon’s South Pole, collect additional samples, and test new technologies needed for a human-crewed mission to the moon. China plans to build a permanent, crewed research base station on the moon, but no timeline has been announced.
Implications of China’s lunar ambitions . . .
China’s accomplishments in space and especially on the moon have become a source of national pride, and they will help scientists better understand the origin of the moon. But these missions are not just about space exploration. China is seeking to develop its space capacity. And with the U.S. planning to send astronauts to the moon by 2024, experts have noted the competitive nature of these missions. Time will tell if a ‘taikonaut’ will be the next person to set foot on the moon. But for now, all eyes are on the Chang’e 5 and the success of its mission.