An uncrewed Chinese spacecraft that carries rocks and soil from the Moon safely returns to Earth early today in its first mission to collect lunar samples.The samples would be the world's freshest collection after 40 years.
This latest development was reported by the Xinhua news agency. The capsule that carries the samples which the Chang'e-5 space probe collected landed in northern China's Inner Mongolia region said Xinhua, quoting the China National Space Administration or CNSA.
Zhang Kejian, the agency's director, announced the mission was successful. With this mission, China became the only and first country to have collected samples from the Moon next to the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
The same report said that Beijing is currently looking to "catch up with Washington and Moscow" after it took decades to match the achievements of its rivals and has spent billions on its military-operated space program.
Named after a mythical Chinese Moon goddess, the Chang'e-5 spacecraft landed on the Moon on December 1. And while landed on Moon, it had the Chinese flag raised, China's space agency said.
When it left the Moon two days after, the agency said that marked the first time that the country had attained take-off from an extraterrestrial body.
The unit then went through the delicate maneuver of associating with lunar orbit with the spacecraft's part that returned the samples to Earth.
Researchers are hoping the samples will help them understand further the origins of the Moon, its formation, as well as its volcanic activity on the surface.
According to the Nature journal, the mission of the Chang'e-5 mission was to retrieve about 4.5 pounds of material in an area called Oceanus Procellarum, or "Ocean of Storms," a vast, formerly discovered lava plain.
In addition, the space agency said, the capsule will be flown to Beijing for opening, and the samples from Moon will be delivered to a team of scientists for investigation.
Challenging Mission in China's Aerospace History
Deputy director Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of CNSA, Pei Zhaoyu said, the country will make some of the samples available to researchers in other countries.
The Xinhua report described this said mission as one of the most challenging and complicated in the history of aerospace of China.
The probe, according to Xinhua, included a separate craft to reach the Moon, "land on it and retrieve the samples, get back up and then return the rocks and soil to Earth."
The return capsule got in the atmosphere of Earth at an altitude of roughly 120 kilometers or 75 miles. When it was around 10 kilometers over land, a parachute opened, and smoothly, it landed, after which a search group recovered it.
This was the first attempt to retrieve such samples since the Luna 24 mission of the Soviet Union in 1976. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, plans for the "space dream" of China, as the leader calls it, "have been put into overdrive." By 2022, China is hoping to have a crewed space station and eventually send humans to the Moon.