A Chinese probe carrying samples from the lunar surface with a spacecraft orbiting the moon successfully docked on Sunday, making in it another space first for the nation, reported AFP, quoting state media.
Named after a mythical Chinese Moon goddess, the manoeuvre was part of the ambitious Chang’e-5 mission to bring back the first lunar samples in four decades.
The cargo capsule that carried lunar rocks and soil lifted off from the surface on Thursday, docked with the orbiter on Sunday morning.
According to Xinhua news agency, it was China’s first “rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit”. The cargo capsule’s departure from the lunar surface was the first liftoff of a Chinese craft from an extraterrestrial body.
Xinhua added that the capsule transferred the moon samples to the orbiter, which will separate and return to Earth.
China has poured billions into its military-run space programme in an attempt to catch up with the United States and Russia after taking decades to match their achievements.
China’s space agency said previously that “before liftoff, the Chinese flag was raised on the moon’s surface”.
Scientists are hoping that the samples from Chang’e-5 will help them learn more about the Moon’s origins and volcanic activity on its surface.
With a successful return, China will become only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.