China's lunar sampler lands in Mongolia with Moon dust onboard
China’s landmark lunar sampling mission has drawn to a close, with the Chang’e-5 lander touching down in Mongolia with the first rocks and dust collected from the Moon in decades. Described as one of the most challenging endeavors the country has ever embarked on, the mission’s success is another key step forward for the country’s ambitious lunar exploration program.
The Chang’e-5 mission lifted off from China’s Hainan province in late November, and by December 1 had lowered its lander-ascender module to the surface. From there, a drill and mechanical arm were used to collect around 2 kg (4.4 lb) of rocks and soil and pack it inside a vacuum-sealed container, which the module passed over to the orbiter-reentry module to carry back to Earth.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) reports that on December 17 at around 2 am Beijing time, the module safely touched down in the Dorbod Banner region of Inner Mongolia, with the precious samples in tow.
This came after the reentry module zipped through the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of around 11.2 km (7 miles) per second, performed a series of deceleration maneuvers and popped open a parachute to drift gently down to the predetermined landing area.
The success of Chang’e-5 follows China’s pioneering Chang’e-4 mission, which last year became the first spacecraft to touch down on the far side of the Moon. It is the first time lunar samples have been returned to Earth since the Soviet Union’s Luna-2 spacecraft did so in 1976, and makes China just the third country to achieve the feat (the US being the other).
China has a number of future lunar missions in the works, with Chang’e-6, 7 and 8 all hoped to lift off this decade and explore the Moon for resources and investigate the possibility of a lunar science base.