The four modules of the Chang'e 5 spacecraft blasted off at just after 4:30 a.m. Tuesday (2030 GMT Monday, 3:30 p.m. EST Monday) atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch center along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan. The orbiter and re-entry capsule will remain in orbit while the lander and ascender will descend to the Moon's surface.
If successful, China would be the third country ever to bring lunar rocks and debris back from the moon, joining the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Chang'e-5 is expected to spend roughly two weeks on the Moon's surface (or the equivalent of a single lunar day) during which time scientists hope it will drill roughly six and a half feet and collect roughly 4.4 pounds of material. By then calibrating the age to crater density, he said, it could set the stage to "give us a better handle on dating rocks on the rest of the surface of the moon and other rocky bodies", including Mercury and Mars.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) called the launch a success and said in a statement that the rocket flew for almost 37 minutes before sending the spacecraft on its intended trajectory.More news: Poorest will be trampled in stampede for vaccines, cautions World Health Organization chief
Once Chang'e 5 does make it to the moon, a robotic arm will then drill two meters and scoop out about two kilograms worth of lunar soil and rocks. About 2 kg of samples are expected to be collected and sealed in a container in the spacecraft. While China has sent prior missions to the moon - including Chang'e-4, which became the first craft to soft land on the dark side of the Moon in 2019 - returning the samples is more technically complicated than those and will require the CNSA to demonstrate they have mastered a number of engineering problems ranging from heat control to Lunar launching. The landing is due to take place in about eight days, according to Pei Zhaoyu, a spokesman for the mission.
When the samples are returned to Earth, scientists will be able to analyze the structure, physical properties, and material composition of the moon's soil, the CNSA said.
September 2011: China's first space laboratory the Tiangong-1, or "Heavenly Palace 1" is launched to conduct docking and orbit experiments. "It will be very hard", said Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the probe, in the Xinhua report. Some portions of the area were explored by other missions, including NASA's Apollo 12 in 1969.
Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China's "space dream", as he calls it, have been put into overdrive.More news: Irish PM hopeful of Brexit trade deal outline by end of week
China was late to the space race - it didn't send its first satellite into orbit until 1970, by which time the U.S. had already landed an astronaut on the moon - but it has caught up fast.
Most of the samples will go to the Chinese Academy of Sciences National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC) in Beijing, Nature wrote, and it's unclear whether any arrangement can be reached for USA scientists to gain access.
"The Chinese people will take bigger strides to explore further into the space", he added. Chinese technicians are making final preparations for a mission to bring back material from the moon's surface for the first time in more than four decades, an undertaking that could boost human understanding of the moon and of the solar system more generally.
China's state-owned media, Global Times reported that about 2,200 seconds after lift-off, the Chang'e-5 lunar probe separated from the rocket and entered the Earth-Moon transfer orbit with the perigee at 200 km and the apogee at about 410,000 km.More news: Jurgen Klopp calls on Sky and BT to change hectic fixture schedule
The spacecraft will return with the moon samples in mid-December.