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

Azmi Haroun
·3 min read
Left: China National Space Administration Right: These two aerial views shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. - The radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which once starred in a James Bond film, collapsed Tuesday when its 900-ton receiver platform fell 450 feet (140 meters) and smashed onto the radio dish below.
Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images
  • On the same day that China landed in a groundbreaking space mission, a critical US radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed.

  • The observatory, built in the 1960s, was a beacon for US astronomical research, lasted through natural disasters, and inspired generations of researchers.

  • China's accomplishment with the Chang'e-5 probe is the first time since the 1970s that a nation could collect lunar samples. If the spacecraft returns to Earth safely in mid-December, it 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 radio telescope in Puerto Rico, collapsed. The observatory, which had been operating as a center for astronomical observations for 57 years, had been deteriorating since August.

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

If successful, this will be the first time a country has acquired samples from the moon since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 mission in 1976.

Astronauts in NASA's Apollo program retrieved over 800 pounds of lunar samples from 1969 to 1972.

The two events on Tuesday illustrated a stark contrast between China's recent investments in space exploration and research and the US's space efforts.

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

China's lunar program began roughly a decade ago with a $180 million investment and orbiter launches in 2007 and 2008. Fortune reported in 2019 that while the US still spent the most on space exploration, China's spending had increased by 349% over 15 years.

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

The Chang'e-5 probe will eventually dock with the rest of the spacecraft in orbit, and from there the samples will head back to Earth in the orbiter. If all proceeds smoothly, the samples should land in mid-December.

Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, the Arecibo Observatory's suspended telescope fell about 450 feet on Tuesday and crashed into the reflector dish, the US National Science Foundation said.

Built in the 1960s, the observatory was initially funded by the Department of Defense and was later overseen by the NSF and the University of Central Florida. The telescope made key scientific discoveries, tracked asteroids headed toward Earth, and helped with research that led to a Nobel Prize. It was also a backdrop of the James Bond movie "GoldenEye."

Ada Monzón, a meteorologist in Puerto Rico, cried on air on Tuesday announcing the fall of the telescope. In mid-November when the NSF said it would decommission the telescope after damage, scientists described it as a tragic end for the observatory and its potential future uses.

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