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A Glassy Discovery: Chang'e-5 Lunar Soil Samples Unveil Material for Future Lunar Bases

China's Chang'e-5 mission has led to a groundbreaking discovery in lunar soil samples, unveiling the potential for revolutionizing future lunar base construction. Researchers from the Institute of Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have found natural fiberglass, a first of its kind, in the samples collected on May, 2023. This glass material is formed from lunar soil's excellent molding properties and comes in various types, such as spherical, ellipsoidal, and dumbbell-shaped glass beads, colloidal items with porous structure, and sputtering material in fluid form. The origin of these glass materials is believed to be the result of mineral melting and rapid cooling due to frequent meteorite impacts on the lunar surface.

This discovery is important for understanding the formation and evolution of lunar soil, as well as recording multi-scale meteorite impacts. Different shapes of the glass materials reflect the impact intensity of meteorites, according to Zhao Rui, a researcher from the Institute of Physics. Natural fiberglass, for instance, has a higher length-to-diameter ratio and is formed under lower temperature and speed during meteorite impacts, while glass beads have a lower length-to-diameter ratio, reflecting more intense meteorite impacts.

In the meantime China's Shenzhou-14 spaceship, launched on June 5, 2022, landed at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center after 276 days in orbit, marking a milestone in China's efforts to develop a fully reusable space transportation system. Although Chinese authorities have not disclosed details or images of the craft, it has been compared to the US Air Force's X-37B autonomous Boeing space plane. Space expert Song Zhongping believes that the maturing reusable spacecraft technology will reduce costs and allow for more complicated missions, with the Long March-2F carrier rocket potentially being used in future manned missions.

With a payload launching capability similar to the X-37B, weighing around 8 tons, the latest test was the longest, most complicated, and most challenging, surpassing the US' X-37B's 224 days in orbit. Health monitoring of the power system and service life assessment have been listed as major scientific problems for 2023 space development. The reusable spacecraft can land horizontally, making it safer for the crew and opening up possibilities for applications in suborbital or space tourism and fast point-to-point transportation.

The discovery of natural fiberglass in lunar soil samples presents an exciting opportunity for future lunar base construction, while China's advancements in reusable spacecraft technology pave the way for more efficient and cost-effective space missions. These findings underscore the importance of international collaboration and the sharing of knowledge for the betterment of humankind.