China successfully landed an unmanned spacecraft on the moon to collect lunar samples Tuesday.
Called Chang’e 5 after the Chinese goddess of the moon, the robotic spacecraft drilled into the moon with the goal of collecting rock and dust samples before heading back to Earth. The mission targeted the high volcanic complex known as Mons Rumker near the region called Oceanus Procellarum, China’s state-run media agency Xinhua reported.
Xinhua tweeted images and video of the landing on Tuesday morning, saying, “China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft successfully lands on the near side of the moon. This is the world’s first moon-sample mission for more than 40 years.”
China’s #ChangE5 spacecraft successfully lands on the near side of the moon. This is the world’s first moon-sample mission for more than 40 years. #LunarProbe pic.twitter.com/pfySXUCAPG
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) December 1, 2020
The spacecraft is expected to stay on the moon until Thursday in order to examine its surroundings and collect surface materials.
According to Xinhua, after landing on the moon, Chang’e 5 successfully completed a number of status checks and settings in preparation for roughly 48 hours of exploration.
Chang’e 5 will complete an unmanned meeting and docking in a lunar orbit nearly 240,000 miles away, the first of its kind in space exploration. The spacecraft will then return to early with around 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of samples.
NASA congratulated China on the successful landing. Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, a top official at the space agency, expressed hope that the international science community would get the chance to study the samples China collects.
“Congratulations to China on a successful landing of Chang’e 5. This is no easy task,” he tweeted. “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.”
Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5. This is no easy task. 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. pic.twitter.com/2xoKouf3dq
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) December 1, 2020
Chang’e 5 was launched from Wenchang spaceport in southern China on November 24. The samples collected from Mons Rumker are expected to be no more than 1.3 billion years old, a significant difference from the 3-billion-year-old samples previously collected by American and Soviet missions.
China’s samples could offer greater insights into the geological history of the Moon. BBC reported that scientists will also be able to more precisely calibrate the “chronometer” used to age surfaces on other Solar System planets.