Landing of China’s space capsule with moon rocks expected in Mongolia


Space travel

Landing of China’s space capsule with moon rocks expected in Mongolia

After China’s unmanned lunar mission, rescue teams are preparing to land the return capsule with two kilos of lunar rock. US space experts expect a landing between 6:32 p.m. and 7:07 p.m. CET due to Chinese warnings for air traffic.

The illustration by the China National Space Administration shows China’s “Chang’e-5” capsule as it is due to land on earth this evening. Their recovery is difficult because of their small size, the darkness and the imprecise landing location

Keystone/AP China National Space Administ

(sda / dpa)

But there was initially no confirmation from the Chinese side. The landing is planned in the steppe of the Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia.

If it were successful, China would be only the third space nation, after the USA and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, to bring lunar rocks to earth. The lander of the spaceship “Chang’e 5”, named after the Chinese moon goddess, touched down on the moon on December 1st and collected rock samples. It is the first time in 44 years that lunar samples have been brought back to Earth.

The harsh winter weather with snow, the small size of the capsule and a particularly large landing area make recovery more difficult, which, according to expectations, should take place in the dark. The search teams with helicopters and vehicles have already completed several exercises, as the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The capsule is only one seventh the size of manned Chinese spaceships. This time the landing area is also 16 times larger than usual because the capsule uses a special method for dangerous entry into the earth’s atmosphere with a long trajectory to avoid heat and material damage.

The mission is considered to be one of the most difficult in China’s space history and is also a preparation for a planned Chinese manned moon landing. The spaceship, which consists of a lander and an ascent module, an orbiter and the return capsule, was launched on November 24th.

Comparatively young rock

Researchers are eagerly awaiting the moon rocks, which are much younger than any previously collected samples from the USA and the Soviet Union. The investigation could provide new insights into volcanic activity and the history of the moon. The US Apollo missions brought back around 380 kilograms of lunar rock. The Soviet Union collected around 300 grams with unmanned missions.

The lander of “Chang’e 5” landed in a volcanic area named after the German astronomer Karl Rümker (1788-1862), which lies in the “ocean of storms”. This region in the upper, left part of the Earth-facing side of the moon is only 1.2 billion years old. In contrast, the ages of the moon rocks collected by the United States and the Soviet Union are estimated to be 3.1 and 4.4 billion years ago.

China’s ambition in space

China is pursuing an ambitious space program with missions to the moon and Mars and the construction of its own space station. In January 2019, China was the first space nation to land with “Chang’e 4” on the relatively unexplored far side of the moon. A rover has been abandoned to continue exploring the surface.

China’s moon flight took place 51 years after the USA’s first manned moon landing on July 21, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were the first people to step on the surface of the Earth’s satellite. The US has put astronauts on the moon six times. With “Apollo 17” in December 1972, the United States stopped its manned moon landings.

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