A Chinese probe carrying samples from the lunar surface has successfully docked with a spacecraft orbiting the moon, in a different space first for the nation, state media said.
The maneuver on Sunday was part of the ambitious Chang’e-5 mission – named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the Moon – to bring in the first lunar samples in four decades.
The cargo capsule carrying the lunar rocks and earth rose from the surface on Thursday and docked in orbit on Sunday morning, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing China’s National Space Administration.
Xinhua said it was the first “lunar orbit meeting and docking in China”.
The departure of the cargo capsule from the lunar surface on Thursday was also the first: the first launch of a Chinese ship from an extraterrestrial body.
The capsule transferred the moon samples to the orbiter, which will split up and return to Earth, Xinhua said.
China is looking to catch up with the US and Russia after decades to match their achievements and has committed billions to its military space program.
His space agency said earlier that “before take-off, the Chinese flag was raised on the surface of the moon.”
Scientists hope that the Chang’e-5 samples will help them learn more about the Moon’s origin and volcanic activity on its surface.
If the return journey is successful, China will only become the third country to take samples from the moon, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.