NASA picks US and Japanese companies for lunar sample collection

NASA picks US and Japanese companies for lunar sample collection

- The ascender of China's Chang'e-5 probe, carrying lunar samples, completes the country's first-ever takeoff from an extraterrestrial body.

The Chang'e-5 lander touched down on the moon Tuesday on a mission to collect rock samples and test the deep below the surface for minerals and water.

The landing site is near a formation called the Mons Rumker and may contain rocks billions of years younger than those retrieved earlier.

The orbiter-returner of China's Chang'e-5 probe has separated from the ascender, waiting for the right time to return to Earth with lunar samples, the China National Space Administration announced on Sunday.

China hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually send humans to the Moon. Moon rocks and debris were sealed inside a special bottle to avoid contamination.

"Yesterday's memory is still fresh and clear, when the USA astronauts stepped outside their cabins and planted the first flag in human history, an American national flag, on the moon in 1969", said Chinese aerospace expert Song Zhongping to The Global Times. The agency released a picture - apparently taken from the lander - of the climbing vehicle firing as it carried its engines.

It is not clear when the merger will occur.

Chinese flag

The samples would then be transferred to a return capsule onboard the orbiting module for delivery back to Earth.

To do that, NASA says it needs its astronauts, like the western pioneers, to "live off the land", using the resources in space instead of hauling them from Earth. Touchdown is planned for the grasslands of inner Mongolia, where Chinese astronauts have returned in the Shenzhou spacecraft.

The Song 5's lander on the moon is capable of scooping specimens from the surface and drilling 2 meters (about 6 feet).

After a successful touchdown in a region known as Oceanus Procellarum, the lander used a drill as well as a robotic arm equipped with a scoop to dig up enough lunar regolith to fill a sample container in the ascent module.

"We hope China shares its data with the global scientific community to enhance our understanding of the Moon like our Apollo missions did and the Artemis program will".

China launched its first temporary orbital laboratory in 2011 and its second in 2016.

While China is boosting co-operation with the European Space Agency and others, interactions with NASA are severely limited by US concerns over the secretive nature and close military links of the Chinese program.

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