A Chinese space probe left the surface of the Moon on Thursday to return to Earth, an ambitious effort to bring back the world’s first lunar samples in four decades.
The Chang’e-5 spacecraft, named after the mythical Chinese Moon deity, left the Moon at 11:10 pm, said state broadcaster CCTV, as mission engineers who were riveted to control screens applauded at length.
A module carrying lunar rocks and soil was in orbit after activating a powerful thrust engine, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said of the mission that was launched from Hainan province.
Scientists hope the samples will help them learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.
If the return journey is successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
This is the first such attempt since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.
The spacecraft was due to collect two kilogrammes of material in a previously unexplored area known as Oceanus Procellarum, a vast lava plain, according to previous media reports.
The samples will be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the reports said.
Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China’s “space dream”, as he calls it, have gathered steam.
Beijing is looking to finally catch up with the US and Russia after years of belatedly matching their space milestones.
A Chinese lunar rover landed on the far side of the Moon in January 2019 in a global first that boosted Beijing’s aspirations to become a space giant.
The latest probe is among a slew of ambitious targets, which include creating a powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads heavier than those NASA and private rocket firm SpaceX can handle, a lunar base, and a permanently crewed space station.
Chinese scientists have also talked up crewed missions to Mars.
(AFP/The Macau Post Daily/Macao News)
Photo by Xinhua News Agency