జ Chinese The spacecraft lifted the spacecraft from the moon with lunar rocks on Thursday night, the first phase of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported.
Chang 5, the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the moon and the first to depart from it again, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which will also fly to Mars and the rover.
Chang 5 hit the sea of storms near the moon on Tuesday. Its goal: to collect two kilograms (four pounds) of lunar rocks and bring them back to Earth, the first specimens since the Soviet spacecraft made in the 1970s. Earlier, US Apollo astronauts returned hundreds of pounds of lunar rocks.
The landing site is near a structure called Mons Runker and may contain billions of years smaller rocks than those previously recovered.
The ascending vehicle was lifted from the moon just after 11pm on Thursday night (1500 GMT) and is due to meet with a vehicle returning to lunar orbit, and then transfer the samples to the capsule by the China National Space Administration. Moon rocks and debris were placed in a special bin to prevent pollution.
It is not clear when the linkup will take place. After the transfer, the ascending module is pulled out and the cartridge stays in lunar orbit for a week, waiting for the right time to return to Earth.
The capsule containing the samples is expected to land in the middle of the month, Chinese officials said. Touchdown is planned for the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s astronauts return in a Shenzhou spacecraft.
Chang 5’s lander, which remains on the moon, can remove specimens from the surface and drill two meters (approximately six feet).
While retrieving the samples was its main task, the lander was also equipped to photograph the area extensively, map conditions with radar penetrating the earth beneath the surface, and lunar soil for minerals and water content.
Before the ascent vehicle could lift, the lander space administration called the first free Chinese flag on the moon. The agency posted a picture – apparently taken from the lander – of the ascending vehicle burning its engines as it departed.
Chang 5 one day revived the discussion about sending Chinese astronauts to the moon and building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects.
China launched its first temporary orbital laboratory in 2011 and its second in 2016. Plans are afoot to become a permanent space center after 2022, possibly serviced by a reusable spacecraft.
While China has been increasing cooperation with the European Space Agency and others, interactions with NASA have been severely limited by US concerns about the secretive nature and military ties of the China program.
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