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China to launch moon probe tomorrow where it will gather and bring back lunar rocks.

Image Credit: NASA

On Tuesday, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) announced via its Wechat social account that it will launch an unmanned moon probe, in an attempt to gather, and bring back lunar rocks. If successful, it will be the first nation to bring back lunar rocks since four decades ago. China will be the third country to collect and bring back lunar rocks to Earth. United States managed to do this in the 1960s, and Soviet Union in the 1970s.

The probe, Chang’e-5 probe will collect around 2 kilograms of lunar rocks to help the Chinese scientists to understand more about the moon’s formation and origins. The probe will be launched from Wenchang space center, located in the province of Hainan. The mission was originally planned for 2017, but due to Long March 5 rocket engine failure, the mission was postponed.

The probe will land on the moon, in an area known as Oceanus Procellarum, or ‘Ocean of Storms’. The probe is expected to land in late November, and will spend one lunar day (14 Earth days), collecting lunar rocks. The rocks will be put in a capsule which is programmed to return back to Earth, specifically in Northern China’s Inner Mongolia region, in the beginning of December.

The mission is expected to be very challenging. Both the United States and Soviet Union never attempted what China will try to do. US never did a robotic sample return, but the Soviet Union did, but was very limited.

Professor James Head, a planetary scientist at Browns University in the US said,

Lunar scientists have been advocating for robotic sample return missions to these many different critical areas in order to address a host of fundamental questions remaining from earlier exploration.

Professor James Head.

China first lunar landing was in 2013. Since than China invested billions of dollars in space exploration programmes. It plans to have a crewed space station by 2022, and is planning on sending humans to the moon. China is also planning a robotic base in the South Polar region of the moon by the next decade.

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