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China launches mission to the Moon

AP, November 24, 2020 7:00PM Kids News

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A Long March 5 rocket carrying China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe launches from the Wenchang Space Center on China's southern Hainan Island on November 24, 2020. Picture: STR/AFP media_cameraA Long March 5 rocket carrying China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe launches from the Wenchang Space Center on China's southern Hainan Island on November 24, 2020. Picture: STR/AFP

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China launched a mission on Tuesday to bring back rocks from the Moon’s surface for the first time in more than 40 years.

Chang’e 5 — named for the Chinese moon goddess — is the country’s boldest lunar mission yet. If successful, it would be a major advance for China’s space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission.

The four modules* of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft blasted off atop a massive Long March-5Y rocket from the Wenchang launch centre along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan, China.

Minutes after lift-off, the spacecraft separated from the rocket’s first and second stages and slipped into Earth-Moon transfer orbit. About an hour later, Chang’e 5 opened its solar panels to provide power.

Spacecraft typically take three days to reach the Moon.

The launch was shown live by Chinese national broadcaster CCTV, which then switched to computer animation to show its progress into outer space.

The mission’s main task is to drill 2m beneath the Moon’s surface and scoop up about 2kg of rocks and dust, according to NASA. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the US and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s.

'Moon Rock Hunter' on quest to track down Apollo gifts media_cameraNASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt collects lunar rock samples at the Taurus-Littrow landing site on the Moon during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Picture: AFP/NASA

The Chang’e 5 lander can only stay on the Moon for one lunar daytime — or about 14 Earth days — because it can’t withstand the Moon’s freezing nights.

The lander will dig for materials with its drill and robotic arm and transfer them to what’s called an ascender*, which will lift off from the Moon and dock with the service capsule. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule to be brought back to Earth.

Joan Johnson-Freese, a space expert at the US Naval War College, said it is a technically complex mission that other countries will study if they attempt to collect samples from asteroids or even Mars.

media_cameraThe Long March 5 rocket, carrying the Chang’e-5 lunar probe, being transported to the launching area at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, China. Picture: STR/AFP

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said that while it is a challenging mission, China has already landed twice on the Moon with its Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4 missions, and showed with a 2014 Chang’e 5 test mission that it can navigate back to Earth, re-enter and land a capsule. All that’s left is to show it can collect samples and take off again from the Moon.

“As a result of this, I’m pretty optimistic that China can pull this off,” he said.

China put a person in space in 2003, only the third nation to do so after the US and Russia.

And while many of China’s space achievements reproduce those of other countries, the CNSA is now a space pioneer.

Chang’e 4 — which made the first soft landing on the Moon’s relatively unexplored far side almost two years ago — is currently collecting full measurements of radiation exposure from the lunar surface, information vital for any country that plans to send astronauts to the Moon.

China in July became one of three countries to have launched a mission to Mars, in China’s case an orbiter and a rover that will search for signs of water on the red planet. The CNSA says the spacecraft Tianwen 1 is on course to arrive at Mars around February.

media_cameraA Long March 5 rocket being transferred before the launch of a Mars rover in Wenchang in China’s southern Hainan province on July 23, 2020. Picture: STR/AFP

The European Space Agency will be providing important ground station information for Chang’e 5. US law, however, still prevents most collaborations* with NASA, which also excludes China from partnering with the International Space Station. That has prompted China to start work on its own space station.

OCTOBER 15, 2003 : First Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei walks toward to China's first manned spacecraft Shenzhou 5 at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China's Gansu Province 15/10/03.  Space media_cameraFirst Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei walks toward China’s first manned spacecraft Shenzhou 5 at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China’s Gansu Province on October 15, 2003.

GLOSSARY

  • modules: pods or sections
  • ascender: something that goes up
  • collaborations: group projects

EXTRA READING

China’s Mars mission blasts off

Hunt is on for missing Moon rocks

Football-sized chunk of the Moon for sale

Race is on to reach the red planet

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the main news event in this story?
  2. What is the Moon mission hoping to achieve?
  3. How does the Chang’e 5 get its power once it separate from the rocket?
  4. What is China’s Mars mission hoping to achieve?
  5. Why is China building its own space station?

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Scientific Report
Write a creative scientific report on the lunar rocks brought back from the Moon and the information it may have provided to scientists. You can be scientific and predict possible things, or you can be as creative or humorous as you like. Fill out the proforma below to complete the scientific report.

SCIENTIFIC REPORT ON LUNAR ROCKS BROUGHT BACK FROM THE MOON

AIM: To examine the lunar rocks brought back from the Moon to see what information they can provide us with.

APPARATUS: (What equipment was used)

METHOD: (What was done)

RESULTS: (What you found out)

CONCLUSION:

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
List some of the disadvantages of US law preventing NASA from sharing information with other countries. What might they gain if they collaborate with other space agencies around the world?

Time: allow 5 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Science, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Down-Level It
When you up-level a sentence, you do things to it to improve it: make it more interesting, or more complex.

But sometimes, when we read something it can be too complex and we don’t understand it very well. You ask someone to explain it to you, they do (in a simpler way) and you think, well why didn’t they just say that?

Go through the article and find a sentence or two that is complex, or hard to read.

Ask an adult what it means, or try and look some of the words up in the glossary.

Once you know what it means, see if you can rewrite it in a simpler way- down-level it.

Make sure you don’t change the meaning of the sentence in any way though.

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