A Chinese spacecraft successfully arrived on the Moon in a bold effort to carry back the first lunar materials in four decades.

The Chang'e-5 spacecraft, called after the ancient Chinese moon goddess, touched down on the near side of the Moon on Tuesday, the Chinese National Space Administration said.

The spacecraft aims to gather lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the Moon's history, composition, and volcanic activity.

In dreams of getting a crewed space station by 2022 and potentially bringing astronauts to the Moon, Beijing has pumped billions into its military-run space program.

If the return journey is successful, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, China would be just the third nation to have recovered samples from the Moon.

During the Apollo lunar landings, NASA explorers achieved that feat, as did the Luna robotic landers of the Soviet Union, finishing with Luna 24 in 1976. Those samples provided essential contributions to explaining the solar system's evolution, and planetary scientists eagerly anticipated further samples.

This is the first such effort by the Luna 24 mission of the Soviet Union in 1976.

On Wednesday, state media described the mission as one of China's most complicated and challenging space missions so far.'

Last week, the probe was launched from China's southern Hainan province and reached lunar orbit after a 112-hour journey on Saturday.

State broadcaster CCTV showed rows of mission control physicists, sporting blue jackets emblazoned with Chinese flags, watching the probe after it finally touched down, then clapping.

In front of the bed, a big screen showed photographs sent by the gray lunar surface probe.

Space Dream

The spacecraft is expected to gather two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of material in a previously unexplored region known as Oceanus Procellarum - or 'Ocean of Storms' - a vast lava field.

The probe was designed to collect samples from the Moon's surface and dig a two-meter (7-foot) deep hole and collect specimens from there to ensure a diverse variety of specimens.

State media said the craft was training for activities on the lunar surface for around 48 hours."

According to the US space agency NASA, the samples will then be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in northern China's Inner Mongolia region in December.

The project is technically demanding and requires many developments not seen during prior attempts to gather moon rocks, researcher Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told AFP last month.

Thomas Zurbuchen, a senior official of NASA's directorate of scientific missions, congratulated China on the landing.


History of Chinese space flight

In 1970, China launched its first spacecraft, though human spaceflight took decades longer, with Yang Liwei being the first "taikonaut" in China in 2003.

In January 2019, a Chinese lunar rover landed on the far side of the Moon in a global first that raised Beijing's ambitions to become a superpower in space.

The new probe is one of a range of ambitious goals, including developing a powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads heavier than those that can handle NASA and private rocket corporation SpaceX, a lunar base, and a permanently crewed space station.

Also, Chinese taikonauts and scientists spoke about crew missions to Mars.

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