The Long March-5 Y5 rocket carrying the Chang’e-5 lunar probe lifts off from Wenchang Space Launch Centre, Hainan province, November 24, 2020. Photo: China Daily via Reuters.
Beijing: China successfully landed a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface on Tuesday in a historic mission to retrieve lunar surface samples, Chinese state media reported.
China launched its Chang’e-5 probe on November 24. The uncrewed mission, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the Moon, aims to collect lunar material to help scientists learn more about the Moon’s origins.
The mission will attempt to collect 2 kg of samples in a previously unvisited area in a massive lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or ‘Ocean of Storms’.
If the mission is completed as planned, it would make China the third nation to have retrieved lunar samples after the United States and the Soviet Union.
The lander vehicle that touched down on the Moon’s surface was one of several spacecraft deployed by the Chang’e-5 probe.
Upon landing, the lander vehicle is supposed to drill into the ground with a robotic arm, then transfer its soil and rock samples to an ascender vehicle that would lift off and dock with an orbiting module.
State broadcaster CCTV said it would start collecting samples on the lunar surface in the next two days. The samples would be transferred to a return capsule for the trip back to Earth, landing in China’s Inner Mongolia region.
China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January last year, the Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first space probe from any nation to do so.
Here is a timeline of key moments in Chinese space exploration.
July 19, 1964: China took its first official step into space, launching and recovering an experimental biological rocket carrying white mice.
April 24, 1970: The first Chinese artificial satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1, was launched at the Jiuquan launch centre in the northwestern province of Gansu. That made China the fifth country to send satellites into orbit following the Soviet Union, the United States, France and Japan.
November 26, 1975: China’s first recoverable satellite was successfully launched and returned to Earth.
November 20, 1999: China successfully launched its first uncrewed spacecraft, the Shenzhou 1, at the Jiuquan launch centre. The country launched another three uncrewed spaceships in 2001 and 2002 in preparation for a manned spacecraft.
October 15, 2003: China became the third country after the United States and Russia to send a man into space with its own rocket.
Astronaut Yang Liwei spent about 21 hours in space aboard the Shenzhou 5 spacecraft.
October 12, 2005: The country sent two men on a five-day flight on its Shenzhou 6 craft.
November 5, 2007: China’s first lunar orbiter, Chang’e 1, entered the moon’s orbit 12 days after takeoff.
September 25, 2008: China’s third manned rocket, Shenzhou 7, was launched into space where an astronaut clambered out of the spacecraft and walked in space.
October 1, 2010: China’s second lunar exploration probe blasted off from a remote corner of the southwestern province of Sichuan.
September 29, 2011: The Tiangong 1, or ‘Heavenly Palace 1’, China’s first space-lab, was launched to carry out docking and orbit experiments.
November 3, 2011: China successfully carried out its first docking exercise between two uncrewed spacecraft, the Shenzhou 8 spacecraft and Tiangong 1 module, a key test to securing a long-term manned presence in space.
December 14, 2013: China landed an uncrewed spacecraft on the moon in the first such “soft-landing” since 1976, joining the United States and the former Soviet Union in managing to accomplish the feat.
September 15, 2016: China launched its second experimental space laboratory, the Tiangong 2, part of a broader plan to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.
January 3, 2019: The Chang’e 4 lunar probe, launched in December, successfully touched down on the far side of the moon. Previous spacecraft have seen the far side, but none have landed on it.
June 23, 2020: China successfully put into orbit its final Beidou satellite, completing a navigation network years in the making and setting the stage to challenge the US-owned Global Positioning System (GPS).
July 23, 2020: China launched an uncrewed probe to Mars in its first independent mission to another planet.
(Reuters – Compiled by Liangping Gao and Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)