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HomeTechChina to launch rocket to the Moon in 48 hours to retrieve highly-valuable lunar rocks from the surface

China to launch rocket to the Moon in 48 hours to retrieve highly-valuable lunar rocks from the surface

China to launch rocket to the Moon in 48 hours to retrieve highly-valuable lunar rocks from the surface

CHINA is poised to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the Moon in a mission to bring back lunar rocks from the surface.

It will be first attempt by any country to retrieve highly-treasured samples from Earth’s natural satellite in nearly 45 years.

AFP or licensors

China’s mission to the Moon is due to launch in the next few days[/caption]

AFP or licensors

The Long March 5 rocket which will carry the Chang’e-5 lunar probe [/caption]

The Chang’e-5 probe – named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the Moon – will seek to collect material that should help scientists understand more about its origins.

The launch, due to take place in the next 48 to 72 hours, will also test the superpower’s ability to remotely acquire samples from space, ahead of more complex missions in the future.

If successful, it will make China only the third country to have retrieved lunar samples, following the US and the Soviet Union decades ago.

During the Apollo programme, which first put men on the Moon, the US landed 12 astronauts over six flights from 1969 to 1972, bringing back 842lbs of rocks and soil.

The Soviet Union deployed three successful robotic sample return missions in the 1970s.

The last – the Luna 24 – retrieved just six ounces of samples in 1976 from Mare Crisium, or ‘Sea of Crises’.

The boot of an Apollo 11 astronaut on the surface of the Moon in 1969
If successful, the mission will make China only the third country to have retrieved lunar samples

China’s probe, scheduled to launch in the next few days, will attempt to collect more than 4lbs of samples in a previously unvisited area known as Oceanus Procellarum, or ‘Ocean of Storms’.

“The Apollo-Luna sample zone of the Moon, while critical to our understanding, was undertaken in an area that comprises far less than half the lunar surface,” said James Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University in Rhode Island.

Subsequent data from orbital remote sensing missions have shown a wider diversity of rock types, mineralogies and ages than represented in the Apollo-Luna sample collections, he added.

“Lunar scientists have been advocating for robotic sample return missions to these many different critical areas in order to address a host of fundamental questions remaining from earlier exploration,” said the expert.

The new mission may help answer questions such as how long the Moon remained volcanically active in its interior and when its magnetic field – key to protecting any form of life from the sun’s radiation – dissipated.

The Soviet Union deployed three successful robotic sample return missions in the 1970s

Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin fly the US flag on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission[/caption]

Once in orbit, the probe will aim to deploy a pair of vehicles to the surface: a lander will drill into the ground, then transfer its soil and rock samples to an ascender that will lift off and dock with an orbiting module.

If this is successful, the samples will be transferred to a return capsule that will return them to Earth.

China made its first lunar landing in 2013 and six years later the Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the Moon, the first by any nation’s space probe.

Within the next decade, China plans to establish a robotic base station to conduct unmanned exploration in the south polar region.

Why are lunar rocks so special?

Mineralogically, most lunar rocks are pretty simple affairs.

Common lunar minerals include silicates, made up of silicon and other elements like calcium, aluminum, oxygen, magnesium, and iron. 

However, they are so extremely rare they are worth an absolute fortune.

NASA assessed the value of the rocks at around £30,800 per gram in 1973.

That works out at more than £250,000 a gram in today’s currency.

A gram of gold is worth about £45 in comparison.

However, even if you could somehow get your hands on one, it is illegal to sell them.

“No Apollo Moon rock or loose quantity of Moon dust has ever been sold legally,” said Robert Pearlman, who edits collectspace.com.

“There is no specific law that addresses Moon rock ownership, but the United States considers the samples to be a national treasure and theft of such falls under the laws applying to theft of government property.”

It is to be developed through the Chang’e-67 and 8 missions through the 2020s and expanded through the 2030s ahead of manned landings.

China plans to retrieve samples from Mars by 2030.

In July, China launched an unmanned probe to Mars in its first independent mission to another planet.

China’s Moon mission comes just a month after it was reported the US Space Force will one day send humans into space and could set up its own Moon base staffed by robots.

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US Space Command leader John Shaw said that he sees space soldiers as part of the military’s future plans.

“At some point, yes, we will be putting humans into space,” Shaw told virtual attendees at the AFWERX Engage Space Conference, C4ISRNET reports.

“They may be operating a command centre somewhere in the lunar environment or someplace else that we are continuing to operate architecture that is largely autonomous.”