Chinese Chang’e-5 mission touches down on the moon

A Chinese spacecraft sent to return lunar rocks to Earth collected its first samples Wednesday after landing on the moon, the government announced, adding to a string of successes for Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program.

According to the details, China successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon’s surface late on Tuesday in the first mission to retrieve lunar surface samples in 40 years, said the country’s National Space Administration.

“Chang’e has collected moon samples,” the agency said in a statement carried by the official Xinhua News Agency. It said the probe also had successfully unfolded solar panels that will power it.

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According to Chinese state media, samples of the moon’s surface will be obtained through a robotic lunar mission. If the China’s Chang’e-5 mission is successful, China will become third country after US and Russia to collect lunar material.

The purpose of the mission is to learn about the Moon’s surface and its rocks so that scientists can learn about the Moon’s origin, its formation, and the volcanic activity there. Earlier, in 1960 and 1970, the United States (US) and the Soviet Union sent samples from the moon.

The intention is to package about 2kg of “soil”, or regolith, to send up to an orbiting vehicle that can then transport the samples to Earth. It’s 44 years since this was last achieved. That was the Soviet Luna 24 mission, which picked up just under 200g.

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The US space agency congratulated China. Nasa’s top science official, Dr Thomas Zurbuchen, said he hoped the international research community would eventually get the chance to analyse any samples sent home.

“When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community,” he tweeted.

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