China has successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft on its way to the moon. The spaceship, named after the Chinese moon goddess “Chang’e 5”, is to land on Earth’s satellite and bring rock samples back to earth for the first time in 44 years. Researchers are waiting with great curiosity for the lunar rocks, which will be significantly younger than all previous samples and thus provide new insights into the history of the moon.
If the return was successful, China would be the third space nation, after the USA and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, to succeed in such a project. With a rocket of the “Long March 5” type, the spacecraft lifted off smoothly from the space station in Wenchang on the southern Chinese island of Hainan on Tuesday morning, local time (Monday evening CET).
One and a half hours after take-off, the spaceship unfolded its awnings to provide power. A little later, the control center commander Zhang Xueyu announced that the launch of Chang’e 5 had been a complete success. The spaceship is expected to land on Sunday in a volcanic area named after the German astronomer Karl Rümker (1788-1862), which lies in the “ocean of storms” – in the upper, left-hand part of the moon’s side facing the earth.
NASA Science Director Thomas Zurbuchen congratulated China on its successful start. “We look forward to seeing how sample collection will advance the international scientific community,” wrote Zurbuchen on Twitter. “The moon is an exciting place!” He expressed the hope that scientists from other countries could also benefit from studying the “valuable cargo”.
The “Ocean of Storms” is 1.2 million years old. Moon rocks collected by the USA and the Soviet Union, on the other hand, are significantly older at 3.1 million and 4.4 million years ago. Researchers hope that the samples will provide new information about the volcanic activity of the moon. The US Apollo missions brought back around 380 kilograms of lunar rock. The Soviet Union collected 300 grams – most recently with the unmanned “Luna 24” in 1976, when 170 grams of moon dust was brought to earth.