China’s daring mission to grab Moon rocks is underway

A Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang'e 5 lunar mission lifts off at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in China

A Long March-5 rocket carrying Chang’e 5 lifts off.Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP/Shutterstock

A Chinese spacecraft is on its way to the Moon after launching off the coast of Hainan Island, in southern China, this morning at 4:30 AM local time.

Chang’e-5’s mission is to retrieve rocks from the Moon and return them to Earth. If successful, the craft will be the first to collect lunar material in 44 years — and a first for China, ushering in the next phase of its increasingly complex lunar exploration programme. Several Chang’e spacecrafts, which are named after a Chinese Moon goddess, have reached and touched down on the Moon, including landing on its far side.

Chang’e-5 blasted off from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center aboard the Chinese Long March-5 rocket, and began its 800,000 kilometre roundtrip to the Moon, which will take about three weeks.

“I just left the coast after seeing the rocket take off. I was so excited, and tears filled my eyes,“ says Xiao Long, a planetary geologist at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. “This will greatly encourage people, especially the younger generation to study and explore the worlds beyond our Earth.“

Clive Neal, a geoscientist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, says if successful, the mission marks the beginning of a new era of robotic sample returns from the Moon that will undoubtedly change scientists’ understanding of the planetary body. “Now we wait for the samples to be collected and returned.“

The Chinese National Space Administration-led mission is receiving communications support from the European Space Agency to track the spacecraft’s journey through deep space, and on its return to Earth in mid-December.

Change’e-5 weighs some 8,200 kilograms and contains a lander, ascender, orbiter and returner. The craft is expected to arrive at the Moon within days. Once in lunar orbit, the lander and ascender will descend to the Moon’s surface. A couple of hundred metres above ground, the probe will hover and use its camera to survey the surface for any hazards such as large boulders and to identify a safe place for the lander and ascender to touch down.

A model of Chang'e-5 lunar probe

A model of the Chang’e-5 probe on its way to the Moon.Credit: Liang Xu/Xinhua/Alamy

The proposed landing site is a 55,000 square-kilometre area in the north-western region of the expansive lava plains known as Oceanus Procellarum, on the Moon’s near side. The precise location won’t be determined until after Chang’e-5 reaches lunar orbit, but it is likely to be in the eastern area that contains some of the youngest volcanic material, says James Head, a planetary geoscientist at Brown University in Rhode Island.

This area is of particular interest to scientists because it could confirm whether the Moon was still volcanicaly active some one to two billion years ago. The age of the rocks is not yet known, but remote observations of the lunar surface suggest that the rocks are roughly two billion years younger than the lava samples collected by the United States and

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Higher Education’s Big Shake-Up Is Underway

College closures, academic program terminations and institutional mergers are nothing new on the higher education landscape. They’ve gone on for decades, particularly during tight financial times. But this year, during what looks like just the initial phases of the coronavirus pandemic, large-scale administrative restructuring in higher education is accelerating at a pace seldom, if ever, seen before.

No mistake about it: the Big Shake-Up is underway.

Campus Closures

Already during 2020, a number of respected colleges have shuttered their doors or are being acquired by other institutions as administrators come to the realization that their campuses cannot survive the economic trauma wrought by the pandemic. In Illinois, MacMurray College closed and Robert Morris University has been integrated into Roosevelt University. Concordia University-Portland has closed up shop, so have Holy Family College in Wisconsin, and Nebraska Christian College, a branch campus of the Hope International University. In Ohio, Urbana University, a branch campus of Franklin University, called in quits in April because of the coronavirus pandemic and declining enrollment.

Although one could claim that these closures involved mostly small colleges that had been on the enrollment and financial ropes for years, and therefore aren’t the best examples of schools knocked out by the pandemic, that view betrays a false optimism in light of the major universities and university systems now considering large-scale consolidations along with the faculty layoffs often preceding or accompanying them.

Institutional Consolidations

Last Wednesday, the Board of Governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education approved the next step in a process that could result in California, Clarion and Edinboro universities merging into a single unit in Western Pennsylvania along with the combination of Bloomsburg, Lock Haven and Mansfield universities in the state’s Northern Tier.

“We are seizing an opportunity to rise up together,” PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein told the board for the 14 state-owned universities. Trying to put the best face on it, Greenstein insisted that the mergers would allow the schools to maintain their own identities, save money, benefit students and develop opportunities for growth.

In addition to the six universities targeted for potential mergers, the other universities in the PASSHE system, created in 1982, include: Cheyney, East Stroudsburg, Indiana, Kutztown, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester.

The Board’s vote to move forward with additional study and planning for the possible mergers reflects years of pressure to find savings in the system. Over the past decade, overall enrollment at its 14 universities has declined from 119,513 to 93,708 this fall. So while the pandemic may have helped trigger the latest move, the gun has been loaded for some time.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “In Western Pennsylvania, California saw enrollment decline by 27%, Clarion dropped 39% and Edinboro decreased 50%. In the Northern Tier, enrollment declined by 16% at Bloomsburg, 42% at Lock Haven and 47% at

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