After its successful landing on the Moon, Chang’e 5 has been busy drilling and collecting material to be sent to Earth. It has also taken beautiful images and footage from the surface, showcasing the haunting beauty of the Moon. Buzz Aldrin described it as magnificent desolation during the Apollo 11 mission.
The lander is located in the North-West region of Oceanus Procellarus (the Ocean of Storms). It has collected roughly 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of lunar material, some from the soil on the surface and the rest from a depth of up to 2 meters (6.6 feet), where a specialist drill was used to reach the subsurface material. The samples are destined to be sent to Earth soon.
There is an urgency to this mission. Chang’e5 is not designed to withstand the frigid lunar night, which will come to the region in just over a week. Unlike its predecessor, Chang’e 4, who was equipped with a radioisotope heater, Chang’e 5 will simply stop working as the temperature falls to -133°C (-208°F).
By then, the sample will be on its way to Earth. It will ascend from the lunar surface and rendezvous with the orbiter. From there, it’s a 4.5-day trip back to Earth. The sample capsule is expected to land on December 16-17, somewhere in Mongolia.
If everything goes according to plan, this will be the first collection of lunar material in 44 years, making China the third country to gather samples from the Moon. The last time this happened was with the Russian Luna 24 mission in 1976.
Like all previous Chinese lunar missions, Chang’e 5 is named after Chang’e, the Chinese goddess of the Moon. These missions are part of a multi-decade program that the Chinese National Space Agency has planned for lunar exploration.
The program has four phases. The first phase demonstrated the Agency’s capability of placing spacecraft in lunar orbit with Chang’e 1 and 2. The second phase was landing and roving around with Chang’e 3 and 4. Chang’e 4 in particular was a crucial achievement as it became the first soft-landing performed on the far side of the Moon.
Chang’e 5 and its successor Chang’e 6 will be collecting lunar samples. The fourth phase will see the construction of a robotic research station near the Lunar south pole. The program has the ultimate goal of facilitating an eventual crewed landing during the 2030s.