China’s first mission to return a sample of dirt from the moon that just reached Earth, along with a container of lunar rocks, Chinese state media confirmed. A capsule of lunar material scraped by a Chinese spacecraft landed this afternoon in the snowy Inner Mongolia, after it sank into Earth’s atmosphere and landed with a parachute on the ground.
The drop marks the end of China’s third whirlwind – And incredibly complex – A mission to the surface of the Moon, called Chang’e 5. The flight took off on November 23, sending a group of four different robotic spacecraft into lunar orbit. On December 1, two of those spacecraft – a lander and a boarder – Landed on the moon In order to extract samples of rocks from the ground. Once enough material was gathered, the landing craft set off from the moon, carrying samples to the rest of the spacecraft still in orbit around the moon.
That started the swift return trip to Earth. The boarding craft carried the samples to the rest of the spacecraft, which re-tracked our planet. This afternoon, a returning capsule with the samples inside detached and headed for Earth. The capsule jumped from the atmosphere once before diving through it and landing on Earth.
The landing makes China the third country to return samples from the Moon to Earth, after the United States and the former Soviet Union. In fact, the last time any nation brought samples from the moon was in 1976, with the Soviet Union’s robotic Luna 24 mission.
After landing, Chinese officials have identified the capsule and will soon open it in the laboratory to better understand the moon’s distance. China had hoped to collect up to 4 kilograms of space rocks from an unexplored part of the moon called Oceanus Procellarum, or “storm ocean.” This region of the moon’s surface is smoother than other regions of the moon, which has led scientists to suspect that rocks there had recently been smoothed out by volcanoes late in the moon’s life. Studying these materials in a laboratory setting could give scientists a better understanding of the evolution of the moon as well as the complex history of the entire Earth and Moon system.