Nov 24, 2020 - Science

Chinese mission launches to the Moon

Image of the moon as seen from space

Photo: NASA

China's most ambitious robotic Moon mission launched on a journey to the lunar surface Monday.

Why it matters: The mission — called Chang'e-5 — is expected to collect samples of Moon rocks that will be delivered back to Earth for analysis. If successful, these will be the first Moon samples returned to Earth since 1976.

Details: The Chang'e-5 spacecraft is expected to land in Oceanus Procellarum, where it will use a drill and robotic arm to collect about 4.4 pounds of Moon rocks, according to a NASA description of the mission.

  • The sample collected from that region is expected to be relatively young, giving scientists insight into what was going on with the Moon about 1.2 billion years ago. (For reference, the Apollo samples are thought to be about 3 billion to 4 billion years old.)
  • If the sampling goes well, it will make China just the third country — along with the former Soviet Union and U.S. — to bring samples from the Moon back to Earth.
  • The sample is expected to arrive back on Earth in mid-December, aiming for a landing in Inner Mongolia.

Background: China has launched a number of successful missions to the lunar surface in recent years.

  • The Chang'e-4 mission marked the first time a space agency had landed and operated a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.
  • China eventually plans to send people to the lunar surface.
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