A CHINESE space probe has lifted off from the surface of the Moon to return to Earth, an ambitious effort to bring back the first lunar samples in four decades.
Beijing is looking to catch up with the US and Russia after taking decades to match its rivals’ achievements and has poured billions into its military-run space programme.
A Chinese space probe has lifted off from the surface of the Moon to return to Earth. Pictured is the probe igniting its engines during take offCredit: Xinhua
The Chang’e-5 spacecraft, named after the mythical Chinese Moon goddess, left the Moon at 3.10pm GMT Thursday, said China’s space agency.
A module carrying lunar rocks and soil was launched into orbit by a powerful thrust engine, officials said of the mission that landed Tuesday on the Moon.
Video footage from China’s state broadcaster CCTV showed the probe taking off from the surface of the Moon in a bright burst of light.
The space agency said that “before lift-off, the Chinese flag was raised on the moon’s surface”.
Artist impression of the land, which touched down on the lunar surface earlier this weekCredit: � 2020 by ZUMA Wire
A probe carrying lunar samples lifted off from the lander on Thursday (artist impression)Credit: AP:Associated Press
It added that this was the first time that China had achieved take-off from an extraterrestrial body.
The module then must undergo the delicate operation of linking up with the part of the spacecraft that is to bring the specimens back to Earth, official news agency Xinhua reported.
Scientists hope the samples will help them learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.
If the return journey is successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
Scientists hope the samples will help them learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surfaceCredit: Xinhua
Engineers at China’s National Space Administration watch on during Thursday’s delicate missionCredit: Xinhua
This is the first such attempt since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.
The spacecraft’s mission was to collect two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of material in an area known as Oceanus Procellarum — or “Ocean of Storms” — a vast, previously unexplored lava plain, according to the science journal Nature.
Xinhua, which called Chang’e-5 “one of the most complicated and challenging missions in Chinese aerospace history”, reported the probe worked for about 19 hours on the Moon.
The samples were to be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region, according to US space agency NASA.
The probe collected rock samples from the lunar surface earlier this weekCredit: Reuters
The probe has sent back stunning colour photos of the MoonCredit: Rex Features
Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China’s “space dream”, as he calls it, have been put into overdrive.
China hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually send humans to the Moon.
China launched its first satellite in 1970, while human spaceflight took decades longer — with Yang Liwei becoming China’s first “taikonaut” in 2003.
A Chinese lunar rover landed on the far side of the Moon in January 2019 in a global first that boosted Beijing’s aspirations to become a space superpower.
The Moon – our closest neighbour explained
Here’s what you need to know…
- The Moon is a natural satellite – a space-faring body that orbits a planet
- It’s Earth’s only natural satellite, and is the fifth biggest in the Solar System
- The Moon measures 2,158 miles across, roughly 0.27 times the diameter of Earth
- Temperatures on the Moon range from minus 173 degrees Celcius to 260 degrees Celcius
- Experts assumed the Moon was another planet, until Nicolaus Copernicus outlined his theory about our Solar System in 1543
- It was eventually assigned to a “class” after Galileo discovered four moons orbiting Jupiter in 1610
- The Moon is believed to have formed around 4.51billion years ago
- The strength of its gravitational field is about a sixth of Earth’s gravity
- Earth and the Moon have “synchronous rotation”, which means we always see the same side of the Moon – hence the phrase “dark side of the Moon”
- The Moon’s surface is actually dark, but appears bright in the sky due to its reflective ground
- During a solar eclipse, the Moon covers the Sun almost completely. Both objects appear a similar size in the sky because the Sun is both 400 times larger and farther
- The first spacecraft to reach the Moon was in 1959, as part of the Soviet Union’s Lunar program
- The first manned orbital mission was Nasa’s Apollo 8 in 1968
- And the first manned lunar landing was in 1969, as part of the Apollo 11 mission
The latest probe is among a slew of ambitious targets.
Those include creating a powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads heavier than those NASA and private rocket firm SpaceX can handle, a lunar base, and a permanently crewed space station.
China’s taikonauts and scientists have also talked up crewed missions to Mars.
In other news, astronomers have created a “Google Maps of the Universe”.
Nasa hopes to peer back in time using the James Webb Space telescope.
And, Nasa recently revealed a surreal photo of Earth taken from 4billion miles away.
What do you think of China’s lunar mission? Let us know in the comments!
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