A Chinese spacecraft departed from the moon on Thursday, leaving a sign of its journey on the moon’s surface.
Hua Chuying, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, tweeted images of the nation’s flag planted on the moon, wishing a safe return to ship Chang’e 5 back.
Chang’e 5’s unmanned mission was the latest in a series featuring the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. Leaving a load of moon rocks, the mission represented the first time a spacecraft has attempted to return moon samples since the Soviet Union did so in the 1970s.
NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen congratulated China on its landing that occurred on Tuesday.
“Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5,” Zubuchen tweeted.
PROBE CHINA MOON PREPARES RETURN ROCK SAMPLES TO EARTH
The tweet continued: “This is not an easy task. When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope that everyone will benefit from being able to study this valuable cargo that could advance the international science community.”
NASA tweeted in November that it hoped China would share “data with the global scientific community to improve our understanding of the Moon as did our Apollo missions and [sic] the Artemis program will. “
Chang’e 5’s return module is due to touch down around mid-December on Mongolian Inner grasslands, where a Shenzhou-based spacecraft in China has returned since China first put man into space in 2003. Only the third country is China to put human beings in space following Russia and the United States.
The Chang’e 5 mission has revived talk of China sending a lunar mission to the moon and possibly building a scientific base there, although no timeline was proposed for such projects.
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China also launched its first temporary rotating laboratory in 2011 and a second in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022, possibly to be serviced by a reusable space aircraft.
While China boosts cooperation with the European Space Agency and others, interaction with NASA is severely restricted by concerns about the secretive nature of the Chinese space program and its close ties with the country’s military.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.