Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples


This image taken by panoramic camera aboard the lander-ascender combination of Chang’e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface after it landed on the moon on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. Chinese government say the spacecraft landed on the moon on Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP)

A Chinese lunar probe lifted off from the moon Thursday night with a cargo of lunar samples on the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported, on what is expected to be a breakthrough mission for the rising Asian space power.


Chang’e 5, the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the moon and the first to take off from it again, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a spacecraft en route to Mars carrying a robot rover.

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side, on a mission to return lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since 1976.

Its ascender module lifted off from the lunar surface shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time Thursday (1500 GMT) and was to connect with its return vehicle in lunar orbit and transfer the samples to the capsule, according to the China National Space Administration. The moon rocks and debris were sealed inside a special canister to avoid contamination.

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Chang’e 5’s lander module, which remained on the moon, is equipped to both scoop samples from the surface and drill 2 meters (more than 6 feet) to retrieve materials that could provide clues to the history of the moon, Earth other planets and space features.

Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
This artist’s rendering provided to China’s Xinhua News Agency on Aug. 23, 2016, by the lunar probe and space project center of Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, shows a concept design for the Chinese Mars 2020 rover and lander. China’s landing of its third probe on the moon is part of an increasingly ambitious space program that has a robot rover en route to Mars, is developing a reusable space plane and plans to put humans back on the lunar surface. (Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense via Xinhua via AP, File)

Upon takeoff, the lander unfurled what the space administration called the first free-standing Chinese flag on the lunar surface.

While retrieving samples was its main task, the lander is also equipped to extensively photograph the area surrounding its landing site, map conditions below the surface with ground penetrating radar and analyze the lunar soil for minerals and water content.

Chang’e 5′s return module is supposed to touch down on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s crewed Shenzhou spacecraft have made their returns since China first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third country do so after Russia and the United States.

Chang’e 5 has revived talk of China one day sending a crewed mission to the moon and possibly building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects.

  • Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
    This image taken by camera aboard Chang’e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface during its landing process Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)
  • Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
    In this Dec. 8, 2018, file photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Chang’e 4 lunar probe launches from the the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province. China’s landing of its third probe on the moon is part of an increasingly ambitious space program that has a robot rover en route to Mars, is developing a reusable space plane and plans to put humans back on the lunar surface. (Jiang Hongjing/Xinhua via AP, File)
  • Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
    In this image taken by camera aboard Chang’e 5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration, its shadow is reflected on the surface of the moon during its landing process on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)
  • Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples
    In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a screen shows the landed Chang’e-5 spacecraft and a moon surface picture, below, taken by camera aboard Chang’e-5 spacecraft during its landing process, at Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. A Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)

China also launched Its first temporary orbiting laboratory in 2011 and a second in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022, possibly to be serviced by a reusable space plane.

While China is boosting cooperation with the European Space Agency and others, interactions with NASA are severely limited by U.S. concerns over the secretive nature and close military links of the Chinese program.


China: Moon probe preparing to return rock samples to Earth


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Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples (2020, December 3)
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