CHINA IS ATTEMPTING its most complex and ambitious space mission to date with the launch of its Chang’e-5 spacecraft, which will attempt to do something that has not been done since the 1970s: bring pristine pieces of the moon back to Earth.
On November 23 at around 3:30 p.m. ET, a Long March 5 rocket lifted off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, on the coast of China’s Hainan Island, carrying the 8.2-ton spacecraft. After separating from the rocket, Chang’e-5 will use its own thrusters to make the estimated four-day trip to the moon. The spacecraft will then release a lander that will touch down near a volcanic mound called Mons Rümker in the northwest region of the lunar near side. There, it will drill and scoop samples from the surface and store them in a protective capsule.
An ascent module on the lander will then launch that capsule back into orbit around the moon, hopefully carrying around 4.5 pounds of lunar material. Finally, the orbiting spacecraft will collect the capsule and return it to Earth, sending it on a high-speed reentry to land in Mongolia at the end of the roughly 23-day-long mission.
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