NASA Researchers Authorized To Apply For China's Moon Samples

In a surprising turn of events, NASA-funded researchers have been given the green light to apply for access to lunar samples collected by China's Chang'e-5 mission, marking a rare exception to the longstanding prohibition on bilateral activities between the two space agencies.

SUMMARY

  • 1,731 Grams Of Material Were Returned To Earth
  • Chang'e-5 Launches in Late 2020
  • The 7th Round Of Sample Applications Close On December 22, 2023

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Journalists

Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Published: 1st Dec 2023 21:21 GMT
Written by: Zac Aubert

In a surprising turn of events, NASA-funded researchers have been given the green light to apply for access to lunar samples collected by China's Chang'e-5 mission, marking a rare exception to the longstanding prohibition on bilateral activities between the two space agencies.

An internal email circulated on November 29 informed NASA researchers of the opportunity to apply to the China National Space Administration (CNSA) for access to portions of the samples recently made available to the international scientific community.

The email stated, "NASA has certified its intent to Congress to allow NASA-funded researchers to apply to the China National Space Administration for access to lunar samples returned to Earth on the Chang'e-5 mission."

This potential collaboration, comes despite NASA Administrator Bill Nelson's firm stance against China and his support for maintaining restrictions on joint efforts. The "Wolf Amendment" in annual NASA appropriations bills heavily limits bilateral cooperation with entities of the People's Republic of China.

China's Chang'e-5 mission, launched in late 2020, undertook a complex four-spacecraft mission involving lunar landing, ascent from the lunar surface, docking in lunar orbit, and high-speed atmospheric reentry.

The mission successfully collected 1,731 grams of material from a geologically young area of Oceanus Procellarum, using a scoop and drill.

China had initially stated its intention to make the samples available internationally after allowing Chinese researchers and institutions access. CNSA formally opened applications to internationally-led groups in August of this year, more than 2.5 years after the Chang'e-5 mission landed.

"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" t

Applications for the seventh round of access to Chang'e-5 samples can be submitted until December 22, 2023, through CNSA webpages.

Researchers are encouraged to contact NASA officials for guidance if their applications are selected. Importantly, the allowance is specific to Chang'e-5 mission samples, and the standard prohibition on bilateral activity with China on NASA-funded projects remains in place.

This development raises questions about how CNSA will respond to applications from NASA researchers. China, having recently built its own Tiangong space station after being excluded from the International Space Station, may see this as an opportunity for international collaboration.

The potential benefits for NASA's Artemis project and China's International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) are also worth considering.

While the collaboration may be a significant step forward, it remains uncertain whether it will lead to deeper engagement between the U.S. and China in future lunar missions. Previous statements from NASA officials and Administrator Bill Nelson suggest that transparency from Beijing would be a crucial factor in determining the extent of cooperation.

However, some experts see this as a potential opening for collaboration on future missions, including the Chang'e-6 lunar farside sample return mission in 2024 and possibly even missions beyond the Moon, such as China's Tianwen-3 Mars sample return mission.

The unexpected development in lunar exploration has ignited hopes for increased scientific cooperation and mutual benefit between the United States and China in the realm of space exploration.

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