State media reported that a Chinese probe carrying samples from the surface of the moon has successfully docked with a spacecraft orbiting the moon, in another space for the first time for the country.
The maneuver on Sunday was part of the ambitious Chang’e-5 mission – named after the legendary Chinese moon goddess – to return the first lunar samples in four decades.
The new China News Agency (Xinhua), citing the China National Space Administration, said that the cargo capsule carrying moon rocks and soil was launched from the surface of the moon on Thursday and was linked to the orbiter on Sunday morning.
Xinhua said this was China’s first “docking date in lunar orbit.”
The departure of the cargo capsule from the lunar surface on Thursday was also the first: the first takeoff of a Chinese spacecraft from an extraterrestrial object.
Xinhua said the capsule transported the moon samples to the orbiter, which will separate and return to Earth.
China is looking to catch up with the United States and Russia after decades to keep up with their accomplishments, and has poured billions into the military space program.
Its space agency previously said that “before takeoff, the Chinese flag was raised on the surface of the moon.”
Scientists hope that the Chang’e-5 samples will help them learn more about the moon’s origins and volcanic activity on its surface.
If the return flight is successful, China would become only the third country to have recovered samples from the moon, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
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