In a noteworthy gesture that reflects growing international collaboration in space research, the People’s Republic of China has gifted lunar samples collected during the 2020 Chang’e 5 mission to France and Russia. This development has delighted the scientific communities of the recipient nations, as these samples are the first to be retrieved from the Moon since the Apollo and Luna missions.
During French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China earlier this month, discussions ranged from international affairs to scientific cooperation. As a result, China presented France with 1.5g of lunar material, which is expected to be crucial in advancing French research on the Moon’s evolution. The South China Morning Post reports that Russia also received a 1.5g sample from the Chinese mission in February last year, after President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China. In return, Russia offered China lunar material from its 1970 Luna-16 mission, highlighting the countries’ ongoing partnership, which includes plans to establish a joint lunar base.
France and China’s partnership extends to the upcoming lunar mission involving a French instrument. As part of this collaboration, France will be the first nation to study new material from the Moon’s South Pole.
The Chang’e 5 probe, which landed in the Oceanus Procellarum region in December 2020, successfully returned 1.73kg of lunar regolith samples. Laboratory analysis revealed these samples to be around 2 billion years old, significantly younger than the 3 to 4.4 billion-year-old rocks collected during the Apollo and Luna missions. Furthermore, the Chang’e 5 mission identified traces of water in the Oceanus Procellarum region.
China’s lunar exploration efforts have been remarkable, with the 2019 Chang’e 4 mission landing on the far side of the Moon. This mission involved the deployment of the Queqiao relay satellite to maintain communication with equipment on the lunar far side. China’s lunar achievements have spurred renewed interest in lunar research from other nations, including the US and Japan, who are now pursuing plans to establish bases on the Moon through the Artemis program.
In light of this development, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has emphasized the need for the US to stay ahead of China’s space program, as China seeks to establish lunar bases and harness valuable resources. Recent reports suggest China aims to begin constructing a lunar base using brick-making robots around 2028, as part of the Chang’e-8 mission.