Moon Rock Brought to Earth for First Time in Four Decades

China’s Chang’e 5 spaceship has successfully returned to Earth and is bringing back a rock sample from the moon.

It is the first moonstone to be brought to earth in 44 years.

Chinese state media said the unscrewed spacecraft landed in the Inner Mongolia region on Wednesday, December 16, at the end of a complex 23-day mission.

During its journey, the probe successfully landed on the moon before drilling about two meters below the lunar surface to collect the sample. It also picked up material from the surface. The collected stones were then placed in a container before they were loaded onto an ascent vehicle. The ascent vehicle then left the moon and transmitted the sample to the main spaceship for the journey home.

To date, only two other countries have successfully brought home pieces of lunar rock: the US during its Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the Soviets in 1976.

What makes this recent effort so exciting is the age of the rock collected, which is believed to be billions of years younger than the samples collected previously. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said the geological sample will give scientists an opportunity to learn more about the formation, structure and history of the moon. The mission also enabled the space agency to test new technologies before undertaking more sophisticated space travel in the future

With this last mission, China has now made a total of three landings on the moon. The Chang’e 3 mission landed in 2013 while Chang’e 4 visited in 2019.

In other missions demonstrating China’s growing interest in deep space exploration, the Asian nation sent a spacecraft to Mars earlier this year. This was the first time a mission had simultaneously sent an orbiter, a lander and a rover to the red planet. The spacecraft is scheduled to reach the surface of Mars in February 2021 – around the same time as NASA’s Perseverance rover and another mission from the United Arab Emirates.

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