China’s Chang’e 5 completes docking mission on its way back to Earth

Photo taken at Beijing Aerospace Control Center BACC in Beijing on Dec. 3, 2020 shows the ascender of Chang’e-5 spacecraft flying above the lunar surface. The Chinese spacecraft carrying the country’s first lunar samples blasted off from the moon late Thursday, the China National Space Administration announced. This represented the first-ever Chinese spacecraft to take off from an extraterrestrial body. 
The ascender of Chang’e-5 spacecraft flies above the surface of the Moon December 3rd. | Xinhua/Jin Liwang via Getty Images

China’s Chang’e-5 mission completed a tricky docking maneuver on Saturday, as it prepares to return the soil samples it collected from the Moon’s surface back to Earth.

Chang’e 5 launched on November 23rd atop a Long March 5 rocket, with four main spacecraft. The mission entered the lunar orbit on November 28th, and its lander and ascent vehicle landed on the Moon December 1st, while its service module remained in lunar orbit. The lander gathered rocks and soil, and on Saturday, docked in orbit with the service module. Those samples will now be put in a return capsule for the trip home, expected to land in Inner Mongolia later in December.

If the mission is successful, it will make China only the third country to return samples from the Moon, more than 50 years after the US Apollo missions. The last successful lunar sample return mission was the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

Also on Saturday, Japan’s Hayabusa2 mission landed in the Australian desert, after retrieving samples of the Ryugu asteroid.

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