A Chinese probe carrying samples of the moon’s surface has successfully docked with a spacecraft orbiting the moon, in another space first for the nation, state media reported.
The move on Sunday was part of Chang’e-5’s ambitious mission – named after the legendary goddess Moon Moon – to bring back the first moon samples in four decades.
The cargo capsule carrying moon rocks and soil rose from the surface Thursday and docked with the orbiter Sunday morning, Xinhua’s official news agency said, citing China’s National Space Administration.
Xinhua described it as “the first rendezvous and docking of the moon’s orbit”.
Thursday’s departure of the cargo capsule from the moon’s surface was also the first: the Chinese craft’s first rise from an extraterrestrial body.
The sample capsule transferred the moon to the orbiter, which will separate and return to Earth, Xinhua said.
China is looking to catch up with the United States and Russia after taking decades to match their achievements, and has poured billions into its military-run space program.
His space agency had previously said “before rising, a Chinese flag was raised on the moon’s surface”.
Scientists hope the samples from Chang’e-5 will help them learn more about the Moon’s origins and volcanic activity on its surface.
If the return journey is successful, China will become the third only country to retrieve samples from the Moon, following the US and USSR in the 1960s and 70s.