China Detected Water From the Moon's Surface for the First Time

Adding to its space program's growing list of achievements.
Chris Young

China's space program (CNSA) is the first to detect water signals directly from the Moon's surface thanks to its Chang'e-5 lunar probe, a report from CGTN reveals.

The new breakthrough provides yet another important milestone for the CNSA, which is ambitiously closing the gap between itself and the world's two historic space superpowers, the U.S. and Russia. 

The first in-situ lunar water detection 

For years, thanks to a number of orbital observations and sample measurements, it has been known that water exists on the Moon. In fact, last year a California-based startup called Masten Space Systems announced it is developing a robotic rover that can mine ice on the Moon to provide future lunar habitats with water and oxygen.

Until now, according to China's space program, water has never been detected on the Moon by a rover or lunar probe. In a new study published in the journal Science Advances, researchers detailed how the lunar soil at the probe's landing site contains less than 120 parts per million water (ppm) or 120 grams of water per tonne. A nearby vesicular rock, meanwhile, carries 180 ppm. All of these readings are much drier than what you would see on Earth, though they do confirm water content in the lander's vicinity.

China Detected Water From the Moon's Surface for the First Time
Images taken by China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe. Source: Lin Honglei/Science Advances

The Chang'e-5 probe used its lunar mineralogical spectrometer (LMS) device to perform spectral reflectance measurements of the regolith and of the rock. The findings were consistent with initial analysis of rock samples taken by the lunar probe.

China's space program hits new heights

Since the 1960's NASA and Russia's Roscosmos have been the two major players when it comes to space innovations and breakthroughs, a trend that has continued in recent years. Last year, for example, NASA scientists conducted the first controlled flight on Mars with the Ingenuity helicopter. In October, meanwhile, Russia became the first nation to send a film crew into space, beating SpaceX and Tom Cruise to the punch. 

China's recent lunar missions are part of its plans to break the mold and position itself as one of the world space superpowers. In a big stride towards making those ambitions come true, the CNSA recently revealed a wealth of images from its Chang'e-4 mission, showing unprecedented views of the far side of the Moon. Late last year, meanwhile, China's space agency also announced it was developing a nuclear fission reactor for the Moon that would be 100 times more powerful than one under development by NASA.

What's next for China's space program? The fast-growing agency aims to beat the U.S. government and SpaceX's crewed mission to Mars by sending humans to the red planet by 2033. If it achieves that goal, it will indisputably go down in history as one of the great spacefaring nations.

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