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Chinese Chang’e-5 mission returns to Earth with moon samples

Beijing / China’s Chang’e-5 mission landed early Thursday in the northern province of Inner Mongolia with rocks and dust collected earlier this month from the moon, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) reported.

“Chang’e-5’s reentry capsule touched down on its preset landing site in Siziwang banner of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region at 1.59 am (17:59 GMT Wednesday),” CNSA said in a statement.

The mission makes China the third country to have collected moon samples, after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Re-entry began at around 1 am local time, and the Chang’e-5 orbit and return modules separated about 5,000 kilometers above the southern Atlantic Ocean.

At 1.33 am the return module entered the atmosphere at a speed of around 11.2 kilometers per second, CNSA said.

“When the module was about 10 km above the ground, it released its parachutes and smoothly landed on the snow-covered grasslands. Recovery personnel sent from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center soon came to the landing site in helicopters and off-road vehicles,” it added.

The recovery team will perform initial processing before flying the samples to Beijing to be analyzed.

On Dec. 1, the probe successfully landed in northern Mons Rümker, an elevated area in the Oceanus Procellarum, on the visible side of the Moon – an area not visited to date by astronauts or unmanned space missions.

The samples were collected in two different spots: on the surface of the Moon, using a robotic arm, and underground, drilling 2 meters down to obtain samples that could date from much earlier periods.

The collected material was stored in a vacuum-sealed container to ensure that it was “not affected by the external environment during the return to Earth,” the CNSA said.

Then, on Dec. 3, the ascender module left the Moon, to later dock with the reentry capsule.

Once assembled, the modules waited to begin their return to Earth on Dec. 13.

The Chang’e-5 probe was launched on Nov. 24 by the Long March-5 rocket, which on July 23 successfully carried China’s first mission to Mars, Tianwen-1, into space. It is expected to arrive on the Red Planet in May.

The Chang’e program (named in honor of a goddess who, according to Chinese mythology, lives on the moon) began with the launch of an orbital probe in 2007.

The Asian country made its first moon landing in 2013, and in January 2019 it managed to land the Chang’e-4 probe on its far side, where it remains – a milestone never achieved before in the history of lunar exploration.

The ultimate goal of the program is a manned mission to the moon and the construction of a science base, although no date has been set for this. (December 17, 2020, EFE/PracticaEspañol)

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