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Thursday, 17 December 2020

China's Chang'e-5 capsule lands carrying the first fresh samples of moon rock and debris back to Earth in more than 45 years

 Chinese Chang'e-5 probe has officially completed its mission - the return capsule touched down in the Siziwang district around 1:30 local time Thursday.

Stowed on board are lunar rocks and soil for what is the first mission to retrieve samples from the Moon since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 project in 1976. 

The 661-pound structure performed a skip re-entry by bouncing off the Earth's atmosphere over the Arabian Sea to reduce its speed before passing through and floating down attached to parachutes. 


And to those on the ground, the speeding capsule looked like a shooting star with a long trail streaking through the early morning sky.  

Researchers were transported to the landing site for a further investigation of the capsule and will move it to a location in Beijing to open the sealed samples.  

With this mission, China has become only the third country to have retrieved samples from the moon. 

The newly collected rocks are thought to be billions of years younger than those obtained earlier by the U.S. and former Soviet Union, offering new insights into the history of the moon and other bodies in the solar system. 


Chinese Chang'e-5 probe touched down in the Siziwang district at 1:30 local time Thursday, bringing the first lunar soil samples to Earth in more than 45 years. Pictured is a view captured by the search helicopter

Chinese Chang'e-5 probe touched down in the Siziwang district at 1:30 local time Thursday, bringing the first lunar soil samples to Earth in more than 45 years. Pictured is a view captured by the search helicopter 

Researchers work around Chang'e-5 lunar return capsule carrying moon samples next to a Chinese national flag, after it landed in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region

Researchers work around Chang'e-5 lunar return capsule carrying moon samples next to a Chinese national flag, after it landed in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region

China placed its flag at the landing site shortly after the capsule was recovered.

Some of the samples will be taken to an alternative storage place in Shaoshan, which is Chairman Mao's birth place. Officials are said to have picked this to honour his wish for the country to 'grasp the Moon' one day. 

The samples come from a part of the Moon known as the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, near a site called the Mons Rumker that was believed to have been volcanic in ancient times. 


The age of the rocks and soil should help scientists fill a gap in knowledge about the history of the moon between roughly one billion and three billion years ago, Brad Jolliff, director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University in the US city of St. Louis, said in an email. 

They may also yield clues as to the availability of economically useful resources on the moon such as concentrated hydrogen and oxygen, Jolliff said. 

'These samples will be a treasure trove!' Jolliff said. 

China's Chang'e-5 returns to Earth with moon samples
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The state broadcaster CGTN hosted a livestream of the event, showing footage of ground vehicles surrounding the capsule and a view from the above helicopter.

The state broadcaster CGTN hosted a livestream of the event, showing footage of ground vehicles surrounding the capsule and a view from the above helicopter.

The return capsule of China's Chang'e-5 probe touched down on Earth in the early hours of Thursday, bringing back the country's first samples collected from the Moon, as well as the world's freshest lunar samples in over 40 years

The return capsule of China's Chang'e-5 probe touched down on Earth in the early hours of Thursday, bringing back the country's first samples collected from the Moon, as well as the world's freshest lunar samples in over 40 years

'My hat is off to our Chinese colleagues for pulling off a very difficult mission; the science that will flow from analysis of the returned samples will be a legacy that will last for many, many years, and hopefully will involve the international community of scientists.' 

The state broadcaster CGTN hosted a livestream of the event, showing footage of ground vehicles surrounding the capsule and a view from the helicopter above. 

The content of the capsule will be opened after it makes the trip to Beijing.

The plan was to collect 4.41-pounds of samples, although how much was eventually gathered has yet to be disclosed. 

Staff members work at the landing site of the return capsule of Chang'e-5 probe after using helicopters and land vehicles to find it in the nighttime snow

Staff members work at the landing site of the return capsule of Chang'e-5 probe after using helicopters and land vehicles to find it in the nighttime snow

State broadcaster CCTV said four military helicopters standing by Wednesday morning at a base on the snow-covered grasslands

State broadcaster CCTV said four military helicopters standing by Wednesday morning at a base on the snow-covered grasslands

After tracking and locating the sample capsule, experts prepared it for transportation to Beijing where it will be stored in a specially designed laboratory

After tracking and locating the sample capsule, experts prepared it for transportation to Beijing where it will be stored in a specially designed laboratory

China's Chang'e-5 probe's return capsule touched down on Earth in the early hours of 17 December 2020, bringing back the country's first Moon samples

China's Chang'e-5 probe's return capsule touched down on Earth in the early hours of 17 December 2020, bringing back the country's first Moon samples

According to officials, the samples will be divided in different paths, with some going to public museums and planetariums allowing people to touch and marvel at the cosmic wonders. 

Some samples will be placed in storage where they will be incubated and others will be transported to a special lab for studying.

Recovery crews had prepared helicopters and off-road vehicles to home-in on signals emitted by the lunar spacecraft and locate it in the darkness shrouding the vast snow-covered region in China's far north, long used as a landing site for China's Shenzhou crewed spaceships.  

Recovery crews had prepared helicopters and off-road vehicles to home-in on signals emitted by the lunar spacecraft and locate it in the darkness shrouding the vast snow-covered region in China's far north, long used as a landing site for China's Shenzhou crewed spaceships

Recovery crews had prepared helicopters and off-road vehicles to home-in on signals emitted by the lunar spacecraft and locate it in the darkness shrouding the vast snow-covered region in China's far north, long used as a landing site for China's Shenzhou crewed spaceships

The capsule was loaded onto a truck that took it to a 'special lab' in Beijing where researches will remove the lunar samples. According to officials, the samples will be divided in different paths, with some going to public museums and planetariums allowing people to touch and marvel in the cosmic wonders

The capsule was loaded onto a truck that took it to a 'special lab' in Beijing where researches will remove the lunar samples. According to officials, the samples will be divided in different paths, with some going to public museums and planetariums allowing people to touch and marvel in the cosmic wonders

It is four years since the last search and retrieval mission at the landing size in Siziwang Banner - it now has a number of new additions including wire fences, high-voltage transmission lines and a communication station. 

There have already been nearly 30 topographic surveys of the possible landing area including marking up any potential obstacles such as buildings and lakes. 

Chang'e-5 set down on the moon on December 1 and collected about 4.4 pounds of samples by scooping them from the surface, and by drilling 6 feet into the lunar crust.

The samples were deposited in a sealed container on the lunar surface, that was then carried back to the return module by an ascent vehicle.

Flying a Chinese flag, the lander has now stopped working as it was used as a launch pad for the ascender craft carrying the rock and dust samples. 

Chang'e-5 lunar capsule set to return to China
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A Chinese flag was raised on the Moon as part of the mission to collect samples of rock and return them to the Earth for the first time in 45 years

A Chinese flag was raised on the Moon as part of the mission to collect samples of rock and return them to the Earth for the first time in 45 years

The Chang'e-5 probe gathered samples on the moon surface on Wednesday, December 2 before launching them into lunar orbit and returning them to the Earth for collection

The Chang'e-5 probe gathered samples on the moon surface on Wednesday, December 2 before launching them into lunar orbit and returning them to the Earth for collection

Chang'e-5 blasted off from a launch base in China's southern island province of Hainan on November 23 on a mission expected to last 23 days.

It marks China's third successful lunar landing but the only one to lift off again from the Moon.

 Its predecessor, Chang'e-4, became the first probe to land on the Moon's little-explored far side and continues to send back data on conditions.

This data being sent back by Chang'e-4 could help scientists understand issues that could affect a future extended stay by humans on the Moon.

The moon has been a particular focus of the Chinese space program, which says it plans to land humans there and possibly construct a permanent base. 

No timeline or other details have been announced by Chinese officials.

China has also joined the effort to explore Mars. In July, it launched the Tianwen 1 probe, which was carrying a lander and a robotic rover to search for water.

China's space program has proceeded more cautiously than the US-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures.

European Space Agency officials helped China track the returning spaceship as part of a new cooperation between the two agencies

European Space Agency officials helped China track the returning spaceship as part of a new cooperation between the two agencies 

This simulated image of the ascender of Chang'e-5 spacecraft shows the way it blasted off from the lunar surface of the Moon to return samples back to Earth

This simulated image of the ascender of Chang'e-5 spacecraft shows the way it blasted off from the lunar surface of the Moon to return samples back to Earth

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the US.

The latest sample-return mission included support from the European Space Agency, which was helping to monitor the mission.

NASA wasn't able to be involved with the mission due to concerns from the US government over close ties between the Chinese space program and its military. 

That has also prevented China from taking part in the International Space Station, something it has sought to compensate for with the launching of an experimental space station that should be live in the next two years. 

The rocks and debris brought back by Chang'e-5 are thought to be billions of years younger than those obtained by the US and former Soviet Union, offering new insights into the history of the moon and other bodies in the solar system.

This graphic simulation shows the orbiter and returner combination of China's Chang'e-5 probe after its separation from the ascender

This graphic simulation shows the orbiter and returner combination of China's Chang'e-5 probe after its separation from the ascender

Chang'e-5 has been a rapid turnaround mission, launching on November 24 and returning samples to Earth three weeks later on December 16 or 17

Chang'e-5 has been a rapid turnaround mission, launching on November 24 and returning samples to Earth three weeks later on December 16 or 17

They come from a part of the Moon known as the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, near a site called the Mons Rumker that was once volcanic. 

As with the 842 pounds of samples brought back by US astronauts from 1969 to 1972, they will be analysed for age and composition and shared with other countries.

China has built a lunar sample laboratory to better study and analyse the rocks without them being contaminated by atmosphere on the Earth.  

It is thought some of the samples will be made available to other countries. 

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