China has the moon firmly in view. According to US experts, the space probe “Chang’e 5” named after the Chinese moon goddess could land on Earth’s satellite this Sunday. It is not only supposed to drop a rover on the surface, as in previous missions, but also return to earth with rock samples.
China has already successfully landed a probe on the moon twice. The bigger challenge is in the second part of the mission. If successful, it would be the first time in 44 years that rock samples would be returned to Earth. After the USA and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, China would only be the third space nation to succeed in such a project.
“Landing on another celestial body is always complicated,” says Paolo Ferri, the former head of the mission operations of the European space agency Esa in the space control center in Darmstadt. The real sticking point, Ferri believes, is coming back. The lander loaded with stones is supposed to dock with the orbiter that is orbiting the moon: “The rendezvous in orbit will be a new challenge and when landing on earth the calculations have to be very precise.” The whole process is similar to the first manned space flight to the moon from Apollo 11 more than 50 years ago. However, the technology is much more advanced today.
The moon was formed when our proto-earth collided with a Mars-sized body about 4.4 billion years ago. Rock samples from the moon are therefore like a “window into the early days of the solar system”. According to Köhler, thanks to the earlier missions of the Americans and Soviets, there are already around 382 kilograms of sample material from the moon in laboratories on Earth, which would have enabled a great gain in knowledge. Nevertheless, there are still gaps that could now be closed by the mission of the Chinese, who want to bring back about two kilograms of stones.
Test for the future
Space expert Ferri von der Esa sees the start of the second Chinese lunar mission within two years not only as a geological mission, but also as an important technology test for manned flights to the earth’s satellite.
The Chinese had chosen a very complicated mission to bring samples from the moon to earth, says Ferri: “They could have made it a lot easier.” It is assumed that all the technology that will one day be manned for one should be tested Landing on the moon is necessary. The Chinese launched their first rover towards Mars in the summer. “Much of what you do on the moon can also be used on Mars,” says Ferri.
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