China spacecraft is returning to Earth with moon samples in a first

The Long March 5 rocket carrying Chang’e 5 is seen on the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Hainan. The 8.2-tonne Change 5 probe, which consists of a lander, an ascender, a service module and a return capsule, is the sixth mission of the Chinese lunar exploration programme Change. The goal of the mission is to collect lunar soil and rock samples from Oceanus Procellarum and bring them back to the Earth. If successful, Change 5 will be the first sample-return mission since the 1976.

Alexei Ivanov | TASS | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — A Chinese spacecraft carrying lunar samples has blasted off from the moon and is preparing to come back to Earth.

It’s the first time China has launched a spacecraft from an extraterrestrial body and the first time it has collected moon samples. If the moon samples make it back to Earth, China will be only the third country in the world to retrieve lunar samples after the efforts by the U.S. in the 1960s and the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

At 23:10 p.m. Beijing time on Thursday, the Chang’e-5 spacecraft took off from the moon, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The spacecraft was successfully launched into a pre-determined orbit around the moon.

The probe will meet with a return spacecraft to get back to Earth and is expected to land in China’s Inner Mongolia region around mid-December.

China has ramped up its space efforts in the last few years. President Xi Jinping urged the industry earlier this year to make China a “great space power as soon as possible,” according to state-backed China Daily. 

In June, China launched the final satellite to complete Beidou, its rival to the U.S. government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), which is widely used across the world. 

And in July, China also launched an ambitious mission to Mars called Tianwen -1.

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