China's uncrewed spacecraft carrying soil and rocks from the moon safely returned to and landed on Earth early on Thursday (local time) in the first mission in four decades to gather and return lunar samples for study, according to a new post from the Chinese state Xinhua news agency, on behalf of China's National Space Administration.
China returns moon rocks, soil to Earth, first sample mission in 40 years
The return module of China's spacecraft — called Chang'e-5 — landed in northern China's Inner Mongolia region, reports the China National Space Administration, according to Xinhua.
Beijing is working to catch up with the U.S. and Russia after taking decades to begin to rival the laters' achievements — dumping billions into its military-controlled space program, Phys.org reports.
NASA upgrades efforts for nuclear power propulsion in space
This is especially timely on Wednesday (EST), since President Donald Trump just issued a new Space Policy Directive — which aims to help accelerate NASA's various projects to install a sustainable presence on the moon, with further aims to settle Mars, according to a new blog post on NASA's official website.
Called the Space Policy Directive-6 (SPD-6) and titled the Nation's Strategy for Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion (SNPP), the new policy aims to provide greater support for the use of nuclear power in space where alternative forms of energy production are unavailable — like where environments are too dim for solar power, or too far for chemical fuel to last.
"NASA strongly supports the White House's continued leadership on the agency's Artemis program, which includes landing the first woman and next man on the moon in 2024. At the moon we will prepare for new science and human missions deeper into the solar system," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in the blog post. "SPD-6 bolsters the agency's efforts to develop affordable, safe, and reliable nuclear systems, including technology capable of continuously powering operations on other worlds and propelling future human missions to Mars."
China third country to return samples from moon
China's spacecraft is named after a mythical Chinese moon goddess and landed on the lunar surface on December 1 — making its way home two days later. While it was on the moon, the spacecraft raised the Chinese flag, according to the country's space agency.
Scientists believe the samples may help in the study of the moon's origins, in addition to its formation and surface-level volcanic activity.
This also means China is now the third country to retrieve samples from the moon — at least since the United States and the now-defunct Soviet Union did, in the 1960s and 1970s. This also marks the first attempt to collect lunar samples since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 mission, in 1976.
China aims for crewed space station in 2022
This spacecraft's mission involved collecting 4.5 lbs (2 kg) of lunar material in an area called Oceanus Procellarum — also known as the "Ocean of Storms" — a gigantic, previously unexplored lava plain, reports Phys.org.
China plans to have a crewed space station in 2022, and eventually send humans to our lunar satellite. Until then, it seems major powers in the west — NASA, SpaceX, the European Space Agency, and others — are among those slated to return humans to the moon in the coming decade.