The Chinese government announced that its spacecraft, Chang’e 5’s probe collected its first samples today, adding to a string of successes for Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program.
The spacecraft began its mission to the moon on November 24th and set out to return lunar rocks to Earth. The China National Space Administration said the probe touched down shortly after 3pm Irish time on Tuesday, after descending from an orbiter.
It has been releasing images of the barren scene at the landing site, showing the lander’s shadow. In a statement carried by the official Xinhua News Agency, the CNSA said that “Chang’e 5 has collected moon samples.”
The probe launched on November 24th, from the tropical southern island of Hainan. It is the latest venture by the Chinese space program who has so far sent its first astronaut into orbit in 2003, has a spacecraft en route to Mars and, aims eventually to land a human on the moon.
They plan for the lander to spend around two days drilling into the lunar surface, collecting 2 kilograms of rock and debris. The top stage of the probe will then be launched back into lunar orbit to transfer the samples to a capsule for return to Earth.
Scientists hope to learn more about the moon from rocks and debris, including its exact age, as well as increased knowledge about other bodies in our solar system. Sample collecting is becoming an increasing focus of many space programs and China’s knowledge of the technology once again places it among the leading nations operating in space.
Chinese space program officials envision future crewed missions, as well as robotic ones. They also included a possibility of a permanent research base. Although, no timeline or other details have been announced.
American and Russian space officials have congratulated the Chinese program.
“Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5. This is no easy task,” wrote NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, on Twitter.
“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.”
Chang’e 5 is due to return to Earth and land in China’s northern grasslands in mid-December. The flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Chang’e 4, the predecessor of Chang’e 5, was the first probe to land on the moon’s little-explored “dark side” of the moon.
You can see a video of the landing here.