China has successfully brought rock samples from the Moon back to Earth via its Chang’e-5 ascent vehicle.
The Chang’e-5 successfully landed on the Moon on December 1, and after a few days it began its journey back to Earth on December 4.
The vehicle was sent to collect four pounds of rocks, which it successfully returned home with yesterday, December 17.
The sample’s return makes China the third country to perform a lunar sample return mission. It was last achieved in 1976 by the USSR.
To collect the samples, the lander dug six feet into the Moon’s surface, photographing the surrounding area and using ground-penetrating radar to check for minerals and water.
Chinese news outlet CGTN announced the news of the Chang’e-5’s return yesterday on Twitter. It wrote, ‘After weeks in space, China’s Chang’e-5 returner is back, according to China’s National Space Administration. The returner is holding the first lunar samples collected since 1976. Crews on the ground are now deploying to retrieve the lunar cargo.’
It later tweeted that the Chang’e-5 lunar probe has made ‘five unprecedented achievements’, according to an official of China’s national space agency.
Discussing the recent mission with the Global Times earlier this month, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine Wang Ya’nan said:
This is the first attempt in China’s aerospace history to lift off from a celestial body other than Earth. The launch is a major test, in that the vehicle had to rely entirely on automatic maneuvers without any ground command.
Chang’e-5’s return isn’t the first lunar success for the country. China launched its first probe, named Chang’e-3, back in 2013, which was the first time any country had soft-landed a robot on the lunar surface in nearly 40 years, according to Vice.
It also became the first country to land a probe of the far side of the Moon.
During the Chang’e-5 mission, China planted one of its flags on the Moon, making it the second country ever to do so. Researchers at the China Aerospace Science reportedly spent months choosing the right material for it due to the extreme conditions it must endure.
Other flags planted on the Moon have failed to survive; according to the Global Times, five of the six flags placed on the planet in the late 1960s and early 1970s during six US crewed moon landings are still standing, but have been bleached white due to solar radiation.
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