In the mid-1950s, countries raced to do something out of this world, and we mean that literally! After the Soviet Union successfully launched a satellite into outer space (Sputnik 1), the race was officially on to see which country—the United States or the Soviet Union—would be the first to achieve spaceflight. On July 20th, 1969, NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first human steps on the surface of the moon. As a part of their mission, they collected samples from the moon, including hundreds of pounds of rocks and soil—specimens that space scientists continue to study today. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union’s Luna missions also collected samples from the moon. Since these early achievements, space scientists and enthusiasts alike have continued to be fascinated with the crater-filled planetary mass.
Recently, China launched an ambitious mission to become the first country to collect moon rock and soil samples and bring them back to Earth in this century. The entire mission will take one month with the actual collection on the moon only lasting one lunar day, or fourteen Earth days. If the mission is a success, it will be a rock solid (pun very much intended!) achievement for China’s space program and an incredible source of information for space scientists to study. What’s the difference between these specimen collections and those from the Apollo and Luna mission, you might be wondering? China’s Chang’e 5 intends to collect samples from the Mons Rümker volcanic plain, a region of the moon that is much younger (almost two billion years younger!) than the region where other rock and soil samples have been collected. We can’t wait to see what the Chang’e 5 brings back to Earth. Can you?