China’s Chang’e-5 moon probe touches back down on earth

National Space Administration hails the mission as a complete success and plans for new launches

China’s Chang’e-5 moon mission probe has touched down in the northern region of Inner Mongolia.

Onboard were moon samples collected during the 48-hour window when it landed on the lunar surface.

State-run television rolled out extensive coverage of the event with Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulating China’s National Space Administration or CNSA.

The facts:

  • The Long March-5 rocket blasted off with a robotic lander back in November.
  • It has returned with rocks and samples, weighing 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds).
  • China is only the third country to retrieve moon material, joining the United States and the old Soviet Union.
  • The last time it had happened was in 1976.

What China’s National Space Administration said: “[The probe’s return] demonstrates the complete accomplishment of China’s first mission to collect samples from an extraterrestrial body. Personnel will assess the capsule and manipulate the lunar lander, eventually moving it to a secure location.”

Reaction to the news: “These samples will be a treasure trove! My hat is off to our Chinese colleagues for pulling off a very difficult mission; the science that will flow from analysis of the returned samples will be a legacy that will last for many, many years, and hopefully will involve the international community of scientists,” Brad Jolliff, the director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University, told the AP news agency.

China Factor comment: This is just the opening chapter, culminating in the landing of astronauts on the lunar surface in the next decade. A permanent moon base is then envisaged by the CNSA as a springboard to broader space exploration and a mission to Mars. The plan mirrors NASA’s big picture program in the United States.