Last week we saw China land its Chang’e 5 lander on the surface from the Moon with the goal to gather lunar samples and launch to the return vehicles in orbit above the lander. This had to happen within just one lunar day (2 earth weeks). We saw them complete the mission in just a couple days based on state-run media coverage. Now NASA has captured a photo of the lander using cameras on its own orbiter around the Moon.
A historic week for the people of China, the nation’s space team successfully landed and collected their own samples on the lunar surface last week. This is something only the U.S. and Russia have been able to do before now. Even better for China, they did it with no noticeable delays or problems with their lander on the first attempt.
Most legislation in the United States has made it difficult for NASA and other scientific agencies to partner with China on missions in space. NASA was able to take part and capture a overhead photo the Oceanus Procellarum region, however, where China’s lander was suppose to land on December 2. In the image, it shows the area affected by Chang’e 5’s landing engine and the lander itself.
Since 2009, NASA has had the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around the Moon to provide images of the lunar surface for scientific and exploration purposes. It also serves as a place to see how the Moon surface changes as we continue to send landers in our quest to explore it. Luckily the orbiter was in the right spot at the right time to capture the area Chang’e 5 landed to confirm that China did actually land on the Moon and not having to rely on coverage by state-run media or leaks from Chinese social media sites.
“The cool thing is we got the image in the two-day window before the ascent stage left. In a month, we can reimage the site to see what changed from the ascent,”Noah Petro, a lunar scientist with NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center, told Business Insider.
China’s lander lifted off last week carrying lunar samples from below the Moon’s surface. Currently if the mission continues to go smoothly, we should see them return to Earth within the next couple of weeks, marking the first time new lunar surface samples will be studied on Earth since 1976.