China has successfully put another probe on the Moon.
Its robotic Chang'e-5 mission touched down a short while ago with the aim of collecting samples of rock and dust to bring back to Earth.
The venture has targeted Mons Rümker, a high volcanic complex in a nearside region known as Oceanus Procellarum.
The lander is expected to spend the next couple of days examining its surroundings and gathering up surface materials.
It has a number of instruments to facilitate this, including a camera, spectrometer, radar, a scoop and a drill.
The intention is to package about 2kg of "soil", or regolith, to send up to an orbiting vehicle that can then transport the samples to Earth.
It's 44 years since this was last achieved. That was the Soviet Luna 24 mission, which picked up just under 200g.
Reports from China suggest the effort to retrieve surface samples may last no longer than a couple of days. Any retrieved materials will be blasted back into orbit on the ascent portion of the landing mechanism, and then transferred across to the service vehicle and placed in the return module.
The orbiter will shepherd the return module to the Earth's vicinity, jettisoning it to make an atmospheric entry and landing in the Siziwang Banner grasslands of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. This is where China's astronauts also return to Earth.
"Chang'e-5 is a very complex mission," commented Dr James Carpenter, exploration science coordinator for human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency.
"I think it's extremely impressive what they're trying to do. And what I think is fascinating is you see this very systematic, step by step approach to increasing their exploration capabilities - from the early Chang'e missions to this latest one."
China's Chang'e-5 probe completes drilling, sealing of lunar samples
The Chang'e-5 spacecraft has sealed up soil samples obtained from beneath the Moon's surface, and is ready to continue collecting more samples from the surface, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said Wednesday.
After making a successful soft landing at 11:00 p.m. BJT on Tuesday, the lander started rolling out its solar panel wings and unlocking some of the payloads onboard to prepare for sample collection.
The lander first drilled a 2-meter-deep hole, digging out soil, and sealed it up at 4:53 a.m. on Wednesday. Next, it will use its robotic arms to scoop up more samples from the lunar surface for backup.
These samples, expected to weigh about 2 kilograms, will be sealed in what scientists have described as a long "sausage-like package".
"Samples have to be sealed up in case any contamination occurs during the course back to earth," Luan Enjie, the chief commander of China's first lunar mission told CCTV. "The Moon environment is very different from the Earth, so samples need to be stored in a very clean container," he added.
These precious soils obtained from the Moon are expected to provide information about its geological evolution and offer insights into solar activities in the universe, according to the mission team.
The Chang'e-5 probe includes a lander, ascender, orbiter, and return vehicle. The sealed packages will be stored in the ascender, which will lift off from the Moon's surface to transfer the samples to the returner and orbiter waiting in lunar orbit. The unmanned rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit will be the first such task conducted by China.
At the proper time, the returner will then separate from the orbiter and carry the samples back to Earth, finally landing in north China's Inner Mongolia.
At the request of the incoming Biden Administration, NASA loaned the Moon rock that was put on display in the Oval Office Jan. 20. It is from the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston
I have to say I am more interested in the moon and putting people back on it before Mars. I feel like the moon is way more achievable and something people could actually come back from and maybe even have a slight chance of helping if something goes wrong. Mars is just a one way trip with help being at least 9 months out, or whatever the travel time is.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” Bishop Desmond Tutu