A Chinese probe carrying soil samples from the Moon returned to Earth on Thursday (December 16th), the Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the Chinese space agency. The Chang’e 5 space probe’s return module has landed in the Inner Mongolia region, north of China. This is the first such mission since the successful Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.
Launched on November 24, the Chang’e 5 probe, named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology, landed on December 1 and then began its return trip two days later.
Scientists hope the samples collected will allow them to learn more about the origins of the Moon, its formation and volcanic activity on its surface.
With this mission, China became the third country to have recovered samples from the Moon, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. Beijing seeks to catch up with the United States and Russia, after having taken decades to match the achievements of its rivals and invested billions in its military space program.
This is a new step in the Chinese space program, which struck a big blow in early 2019 by landing a machine on the far side of the Moon, a world first. China hopes to have a manned space station by 2022 and eventually send humans to the moon.