CHINA is ready to launch a drone to the moon on a mission to bring lunar rocks back to the surface.
It will be the first attempt by any country to extract very rich specimens from the Earth’s natural satellite in almost 45 years.
The Chang’e-5 probe – named after the ancient Chinese moon goddess – will try to gather material to help scientists understand its origins.
The launch, due to take place in the next 48 to 72 hours, will also test the superpower’s ability to remotely procure space samples before more complex missions in the future.
If successful, it would make China just the third country to receive examples from the moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union decades ago.
During the Apollo program, which first landed humans on the moon, the United States landed 12 astronauts on six flights from 1969 to 1972, returning 842 kilograms of rock and soil.
The Soviet Union deployed three successful robotic examples of a return mission in the 1970s.
The last one – Luna 24 – took only six ounces of specimens in 1976 from Mare Crisium, or “Crisis Sea”.
The Chinese investigation, scheduled to begin in the next few days, will try to collect more than 4kg of specimens in a previously unvisited area known as Oceanus Procellarum or “Ocean of Storms”.
“The Apollo-Luna zone of the lunar specimen, while critical to our understanding, was taken in an area that covers far less than half the moon,” said Headshead Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Subsequent data from orbital remote reconnaissance missions showed a greater variety of rock types, mineralogies and ages than are presented in the Apollo-Luna specimen collections, he added.
“Lunar scientists have been working on a mission for robotic specimens to return to these very different critical areas in order to address a number of key issues left over from previous research,” the expert said.
The new mission could help answer questions such as how long the Moon remained volcanically active inside it and when its magnetic field – crucial to protecting any life form from solar radiation – exploded.
Once in orbit, the probe will aim to deploy a pair of vehicles to the surface: the spacecraft will drill into the ground, then transfer soil and rock samples to an elevator that will be lifted and anchored with an orbiting module.
If this is successful, the samples will be transferred to a return capsule that will be returned to Earth.
China made its first lunar landing in 2013, and six years later the Chang-4 spacecraft touched the far side of the moon, the first spacecraft of any nation.
In the next decade, China plans to set up a robotic base station to conduct unmanned research in the South Polar region.
Why are lunar rocks so special?
Mineralogically, most lunar rocks are fairly simple things.
Common minerals on the Moon include silicates, composed of silicon and other elements such as calcium, aluminum, oxygen, magnesium and iron.
However, they are so rare that they are worth an absolute fortune.
NASA estimated the value of the rocks at around 30,800 pounds per gram in 1973.
It works at more than 000 250,000 per gram in today’s currency.
In comparison, one gram of gold is worth about 45 pounds.
However, even if you somehow manage to get hold of someone, it is illegal to sell them.
“Legal Apollo Moon rocks or loose amounts of moon dust have never been sold,” said Robert Pirlman, editor of Collectspace.com.
“There is no specific law regarding the ownership of the rocks on the moon, but the United States considers the specimens to be national treasure and the theft of such falls under the laws that apply to the theft of state property.”
It is being developed through the Chang’e-67 and 8 missions through 2020 and will expand through the 2030s before landing.
China plans to extract samples from Mars by 2030.
In July, China launched a drone to Mars in its first independent mission to another planet.
China’s lunar mission comes just a month after it was announced that the US space forces would one day send humans into space and could form their own lunar base equipped with robots.
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U.S. Space Command chief John Shaw said he sees the space troops as part of the military’s future plans.
“At some point, yes, we’re going to put people in space,” Shaw told the virtual audience at the AFWERX Engage Space Conference, C4ISRNET reports.
“They can work with a command center somewhere in the lunar environment or somewhere else where we continue to work with an architecture that is largely autonomous.