The first color images of China's Chang'e-5 project were sent home from the surface of the Moon. Its lander recorded a breathtaking view that reaches out to the surface from the lunar soil" directly under its eyes.
The mission touched down on Tuesday and instantly started collecting rock and dust samples to bring back to Earth. They are sent to an orbital spaceship that will shepherd them home. This could happen as early as Tuesday.
If successful, the project would be the first time that lunar rock samples have found their way to Earth since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976. China's desire to become a powerhouse in space, rivaling the US and Russia's successes, is also demonstrated by the project.
Called after Chang'e, the Chinese Moon goddess, the probe was launched from the Wenchang Satellite launch center on Hainan Island on November 23. Chang'e traveled onboard the Long March 5 rocket, China's signature heavy-lift launch vehicle.
The probe shot its engines for 17 minutes on November 28 to reach a 248 mile (400km) orbit around the Moon. Two days later, the probe's lunar lander section separated from the orbiter and made its way to the Moon's soil.
On December 1, near Mons Rümker in the Oceanus Procellarum area of the Moon, Chang'e 5's landing was confirmed. This geographical structure is an ancient volcanic formation on the near-side of the Moon's northwest area.
Chang'e 5 deployed its solar antenna shortly after arriving, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) reported. Two photos of Chang'e on the Moon were also released by the CNSA, snapped during descent and just after touch-down.
The good, grey regolith that covers the Moon's surface is featured in both pictures. However, the second picture has captured the shadow cast by one of the legs of the lander.
Why was it that China sent a probe to the Moon?
The purpose of China's mission to the Moon is to obtain and return to Earth some 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of lunar rock and soil. To gather samples from below the atmosphere, part of the task would require drilling around 6.6ft into the Moon.
Lunar scientists consider the rocks found in this region of the Moon are about 1.2 billion years old. The samples obtained by NASA's Apollo missions were 3.1 to 4.4 billion years ago, for reference.
These are the first pristine lunar rock samples found 44 years ago - following the U.S.-USSR Cold War.
The samples can help unravel new clues about the nature, composition, and volcanic past of the Moon, scientists are optimistic. According to planetary geologist Xiao Lon at the Wuhan University of Geosciences in China, these rocks may "rewrite the history of the Moon."
And because of the restricted energy source of Chang'e 5, the probe would have little more than one lunar day to complete its mission - the average of 14 Earth days. The samples gathered would be passed into the ascent process of the probe and shot back into space.
The ascent process would rendezvous with the orbiter while back in space and pass the samples to the return spacecraft. The ascent stage will then be ejected, and with a scheduled landing in inner Mongolia by December 17, the orbiter will head back to Earth.
"With Chang'e 5, China has launched an effort to join the US and the former Soviet Union in obtaining lunar samples," the US space agency NASA tweeted on the day of Chang'e's launch.
"We hope China shares its data with the global scientific community to enhance our understanding of the Moon like our Apollo missions did and the Artemis program will."
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