Chang’e-5 return capsule holding lunar specimens.
Credit: National Astronomical Observatories, CAS

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is considering applications from NASA-funded researchers to study lunar samples brought back to Earth by China’s Chang’e-5 moon mission.

According to the South China Morning Post these applications are to be considered April 26 in a review meeting being held at the China University of Geosciences’ Nanwangshan campus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

In December 2020, China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission rocketed back to Earth 3.8 pounds (1,731 grams) of lunar rocks and soil from its Oceanus Procellarum exploration site on the near side of the Moon.

Photo taking during Chang’e-5 surface sampling.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

NASA coordination

NASA has green-lighted space agency-funded researchers to apply for access to China’s lunar samples returned to Earth via that country’s Chang’e-5 Moon mission.

In a statement provided today by NASA to Inside Outer Space: “NASA is continuing to coordinate with U.S. researchers that applied for Chang’e-5 lunar samples. The agency is aware that as part of the application process CNSA will interview the international loan applicants soon, virtually and in-person. NASA understands that five U.S. applicants have been selected to participate.”

Late last year, in a communiqué from the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System (NSPIRES) the space agency explained that it had certified its intent to Congress to allow NASA-funded researchers to apply for access to the Chang’e-5 samples.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“The Chang’e-5 samples originate from regions of the moon not yet sampled by NASA and are expected to provide valuable new scientific insight on the geological history of the moon, which could provide new understanding of the Earth-moon system and potentially inform NASA’s future lunar exploration plans,” the NSPIRES statement added. “Applying for samples will ensure that United States researchers have the same research opportunities as scientists around the world.”

More lunar samples

In the meantime, China Moon exploration planners are detailing the country’s next robotic lunar probe mission, Chang’e-6, expected to be launched May 3, from the  Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island.

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission elements.
Credit: CNSA

This Chinese lunar lander is to set down in the south pole-Aitken Basin on the lunar far side and gather samples, then rocket those specimens to Earth. The targeted far side landing site is within the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin on the floor of the Apollo basin.

Similar to the successful Chang’e-5 return sample probe, Chang’e-6 will consist of four components: An orbiter, lander, ascender and Earth re-entry module.

Chang’e-6 will seek to retrieve one to two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of lunar samples, according to Chinese lunar experts. If successful, Chang’e-6 would mark the first returned samples from the Moon’s far side.

Moon cooperation

As noted by James Head, a lunar expert at Brown University, Chang’e-6 experiments onboard the lander that were not carried on Chang’e 5 include DORN, a radon detection experiment from France, NILS, a lunar surface negative ion detector from Sweden/ESA, and INNRI, a passive laser retro-reflector from Italy.

Image credit: CNSA

“The landing site is most likely to be in the mare patch in southern part of the Apollo basin and will return not only the first far side mare samples, but also fragments excavated and deposited from the Apollo and SPA basins,” Head explains.





For more information, go to my earlier story — “China’s Chang’e 5 moon samples, beyond NASA’s reach for years, are finally available to US scientists” – at:

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