The return capsule of China’s Chang’e-5 probe touched down on Earth in the early hours of Thursday, December 17, the Xinhua news agency confirmed. The spacecraft brought back first samples collected from the moon by China, as well as the world’s first lunar samples in over 40 years.

Chang’e-5 landed in Siziwang Banner, north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at 1:59 am (Beijing time), according to the China National Space Administration.

The spacecraft’s mission has been declared a success by the CNSA.

It marks a monumental conclusion of China’s current three-step lunar exploration program of orbiting and landing, and bringing back samples, which began in 2004.

Under ground control, the return capsule separated from the orbiter about 5000 kilometers above the Atlantic. The capsule then entered the Earth’s atmosphere at an altitude of about 120 kilometers and a speed of about 11.2 kilometers per second at 1:33 am.

At about 10 kilometers above the ground, a parachute opened to facilitate smooth landing of the capsule in the predetermined area.

CHINA-MOON-MISSION-COMES-BACK-TO-EARTH
(Xinhua)

It will be airlifted to Beijing for opening, and the moon samples will be delivered to the research team for analysis and study, said the CNSA. China will make some of the samples available to scientists in other countries.

Chang’e-5 is one of the most complicated and challenging missions in China’s aerospace endeavors. The probe was launched on November 24, and its lander-ascender combination touched down  on the north of the Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon on December 1.

CNSA said the site was chosen because it had a younger geological age than the sampling areas of the United States and the Soviet Union more than 40 years ago, and had never been sampled. The new samples will be of great scientific value, said researchers.

With this mission, China became the third country to have retrieved samples from the moon, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960 and 1970s.

The country is drawing up plans for future lunar explorations, including constructing a basic version of a scientific research station there.   

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