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Scientific researchers transfer a container loaded with moon samples retrieved by the Chang’e-5 probe. Photo: Xinhua

Chang’e 5: Chinese scientists take delivery of 1.7kg of moon rocks

  • Space administration hands samples over to the National Astronomical Observatories which has built a new laboratory to study them
  • Lunar materials will ‘help humankind understand the moon’s fundamental characteristics’ and aid the development of new missions, NAO says
Chinese scientists will soon begin their studies of the moon samples brought back to Earth by the Chang’e 5 mission.

The 1.73kg (3.8lbs) of materials collected during the 23-day journey were transferred on Saturday to the country’s first-ever lunar sample lab at the National Astronomical Observatories (NAO), a Beijing-based agency under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Xinhua reported.

The facility will allow for the long-term storage of the samples in a high purity nitrogen environment and ensure there is no contamination or chemical effects during the research process, the NAO said on WeChat.

“This research cannot only help humankind understand the moon’s fundamental characteristics, but will also provide the basis for lunar machines, astronaut spacesuits and landing areas for future survey missions,” it said.

A ceremony was held on Saturday morning to hand over the samples – the first to be collected from the moon since 1976 – to the CAS from the Chinese National Space Administration.

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, who attended the event, hailed the Chang’e 5 mission as an “important milestone on the path to becoming a space power.”

“We need to maintain a high degree of urgency, accelerating the pace of our own innovations and increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our development, paying close attention to training talent and deepening international exchanges and cooperation,” he was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

China says it will share its lunar samples with global scientific community

While the United States and Soviet Union were the first to retrieve lunar samples during their moon missions of the 1960s and 1970s, many countries since then have seen their space programmes hobbled by delays and high costs, including the US, Japan and India. China’s Chang’e programme, whose long-term goal is to set up a research base on the moon, has also had its fair share of challenges, including the failure of its Long March 5 rocket in 2017.

But the success of Chang’e 5 gives Chinese scientists the opportunity to examine lunar samples for the first time since 1978, when the US donated one gram of its 382kg haul to China. And unlike those collected by the Americans and Soviets, the new samples were retrieved from a geologically younger area of the moon, which means they could reveal new information about its history.

China’s progress in space exploration has sparked renewed fears of a space race with the US, with the two countries already embroiled in battles for influence in many other fields.

After the Chang’e 5 mission launched on November 24, Nasa tweeted that it hoped China “shares its data with the scientific community to enhance our understanding of the moon like our Apollo missions did [and] the Artemis programme will”.

Two weeks later, the space agency released a report outlining its plan to send American astronauts – including the first woman – back to the moon in 2024.

China says it will share its lunar samples with global scientific community

In July, China’s Tianwen-1 probe and America’s Perseverance rover began their missions to Mars within a week of each other.

US Space Force General John Raymond last month warned of the threat posed by both China and Russia, which he said were “developing capabilities that would negate the US advantage” and seeking “to stop US access to space”.

While the US and China are seen as the global leaders in space exploration, most experts agree that America still has the edge in terms of key technologies, which is made more secure by the fact it tightly controls the sale of space tech to China.