China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft, named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology, successfully touched down at 11:11 p.m. BJT, Dec.1 (10:11 a.m. EST). The Chang’e 5 mission is the country’s first attempt at a sample-return mission.
The landing site is located near Mons Rümker, a mountain in the Ocean of Storms – an untouched part of the moon no human or spacecraft have visited before. The precise position was reported as 51.8 degrees West longitude and 43.1 degrees North latitude.
The key to Chang’e’s successful landing lies in its stability, needed to counteract the huge strike a spacecraft creates upon touching down. To manage this technical problem researchers specially designed “four legs” for the Chang’e 5 to offset the strike and ensure that the probe would not tip over or sink.
Chang’e 5’s “offset converge, self-compression” (偏置收拢、自我压紧”) system, part of the spacecraft’s landing buffer mechanism which guarantees simple folding and reliable deployment, is protected by independent intellectual property rights.
In the next two days, the probe will collect about two kilograms of material beneath the lunar surface. If the journey is successful, Chang’e 5 will then return to the Earth by mid-December with samples that could pave the way for researchers to obtain new information about the moon’s history, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
NASA’s top science official, Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, congratulated China for its milestone success, tweeting: “When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community.”
Following two previous Moon landings – those of Chang’e-3 in 2013 and Chang’e-4 last year – Chang’e-5’s success will likely benefit the international community, possibly leading to further understanding of solar activity.
More missions are on the way. According to the CNSA, the Chang’e 5 mission will be followed by two expeditions to the lunar South Pole, which will also return material to Earth – the Chang’e 6 mission, planned for 2024, and the Chang’e 7 survey operation in 2030.
A further Chang’e 8 mission is expected to lay the groundwork for a Chinese lunar research base on the moon by 2036.