On the same day China landed a probe on the moon, the US’s massive telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed



Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images


© Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images
Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

  • On the same day that China collected lunar rocks in a groundbreaking space mission, a critical US telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed.
  • The observatory, built in 1963, was a beacon for US astronomical research, lasted through natural disasters, and inspired generations of Puerto Rican researchers.
  • China’s successful accomplishment with the Chang’e-5 probe is the first time since the 1970s that lunar samples have been collected, and if the spacecraft returns to Earth safely in mid-December, will mark a massive step forward in space exploration. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Tuesday, the United States and China experienced vastly different events in the world of space exploration and observation.

The Arecibo Observatory, a colossal telescope located in Puerto Rico, collapsed after deteriorating sharply since August. The Arecibo Observatory had been operating as a center for astronomical observations for 57 years. 

Meanwhile, far from the Earth’s atmosphere, the unmanned Chang’e-5 probe, a Chinese spacecraft, landed on the moon to bring lunar materials back to Earth for the first time in almost 50 years, the Chinese government announced.

China’s moon landing and retrieval of lunar rocks mark the first time a country has acquired sample materials from the moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976, according to NASA. 

US astronauts in NASA’s Apollo program last retrieved over 800 pounds of lunar samples between 1969 and 1972. 

Video: China successfully lands spacecraft on moon to retrieve lunar rocks (Reuters)

The two separate events on the same day show the stark contrast between China’s recent investment in space exploration and research and the US’s space efforts, which often have shifting budgets and priorities.

As Business Insider previously reported, there are myriad roadblocks to the US going back to the moon, including the cost of space exploration and priorities shifting with each new presidential administration.

China’s moon program began roughly a decade ago with a $180 million investment and with orbiter launches in 2007 and 2008. According to a 2019 report from Fortune, while the US still spends the most on space exploration, China’s spending has increased 349% over 15 years.



a close up of a brick wall: An unmanned Chinese spacecraft landed on the Moon on December 1, state media reported, the latest milestone in a mission to collect samples from the lunar surface. China National Space Administration


© China National Space Administration
An unmanned Chinese spacecraft landed on the Moon on December 1, state media reported, the latest milestone in a mission to collect samples from the lunar surface. China National Space Administration

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft which landed will eventually dock with the rest of the spacecraft remaining in orbit, and from there the samples will head back to Earth in the orbiter. If all remaining steps proceed smoothly, the samples will land in mid-December in the Inner Mongolia region.

In Puerto Rico, the observatory’s suspended telescope fell about 450 feet and crashed into the observatory’s reflector dish on Tuesday morning, according to the US National Science Foundation.

Built in the 1960s, the observatory was initially funded by the US Department of Defense and is now overseen by the National Science Foundation and the University of Central Florida. The telescope made key scientific discoveries, such as tracking asteroids headed towards the Earth, and helped with research leading to a Nobel prize. It was also one of the iconic backdrops of the James Bond movie, “Goldeneye.”

Puerto Rican meteorologist Ada Monzón cried on air Tuesday announcing the fall of the telescope. November marked a tragic end not only to the observatory’s structure but also to the observatory’s potential uses in the future, as the NSF announced plans to decommission the observatory, prior to the collapse. 

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