March 13, 2021
By Mirka Cuadros
At around 2:00 a.m. local time on Thursday, China’s Chang’e 5 re-entry capsule landed safely in Inner Mongolia, making China one of three countries to ever retrieve lunar samples.
Chang’e 5, named after China’s moon goddess, was first launched on November 24th from Hainan Island. Upon arrival, the mission’s lander would immediately begin drilling and retrieving samples from both the moon’s surface and below it.
The samples would later be stored in an ascent vehicle that would retrieve them to an orbiter on December 6th. Since then, the recovery team has successfully transported them to Beijing and the rocks are now available for study.
China’s recent feat marks a historic turning point for the country’s rapidly advancing space program. The US and Soviet Union had been the only countries to retrieve such samples with most expeditions occurring throughout the 60s and 70s during the peak of the Cold War. For the first time in 44 years, moon rocks have been brought back to Earth with the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976 marking the last sample return mission.
While Apollo-era lunar samples are estimated to be about 3-4 billion years old, Chang’e 5’s material appears to be collected from a recently developed area. The Northeast region of the moon, which is estimated to be 1.2 billion years old, appears to be the youngest of the moon’s mare basalts. Scientists studying the material expect to learn more about the evolution of the moon and hope to develop new techniques for estimating the age of geological samples from other planets and asteroids.
Chemistry teacher Ms. Konel believes the exploration of these moon rocks can benefit the growth of technology.
Konel says, “I believe it is important for China and other countries to participate in space missions because of the possibility of technological advancement.
Other technological developments may also sprout from space research.
Technology, like artificial limbs and insulin pumps, has been developed because of space exploration,” said Konel.
Not only are China’s developments and research a monumental leap forward for planetary and health sciences, but it signals to rival countries that China is an up and coming leader in space exploration. This has created much intrigue as to how China will influence other countries in their space programs.
Sophomore Alex Ryabnenkov, for one, believes China’s recent achievements will drive competition between other rivaling countries.
“Out of China’s rivals, I could see them taking it as a challenge and ramping up their space programs with a new space race,” said Ryabenkov.
Ryabenkov believes this will create a new division of teams in the world of space exploration.
“For its allies, I can imagine applause being showered on them as they try to cooperate together to increase their collective knowledge of space. Generally, I see this monumental achievement sparking global newfound interest in Space Exploration as more and more nations do what the two ancient hegemons did so long ago,” added Ryabenkov.
Science teacher Ms. Manzella imagines China will soon surpass other countries as the leader in planetary sciences.
“Although China’s space program and accomplishments have not yet surpassed that of the United States, there is the potential that they might in the future with their current rate,” she commented.
“I think seeing another country make space exploration a priority has renewed interest within the United States to revisit the moon as well as develop new projects to keep their edge and status as leaders in space exploration,”
“Out of China’s rivals, I could see them taking it as a challenge and ramping up their space programs with a new space race.”
China’s history in the field of space expedition stems as far back as 900 AD when they pioneered the first rudimentary rockets. Though China did not participate in the Space Race, the country had begun to pursue space travel in the 1950s. Today, after major additions and advancements to their space programs, China is a major player in space exploration and believed to remain so.
“China has made their space program a priority, revving up funding and research and as a result have made great strides,” said Manzella.