China’s lunar mission returns to Earth with moon samples

17 Dec 2020

Image: © Aleksandr/

China has become the third country in the world to collect rocks from the moon.

After blasting off on 23 November, the uncrewed Chang’e 5 probe has successfully returned to Earth with lunar rock samples, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua.

The landing makes China the third country in the world to deliver moon samples to Earth, following the US and the Soviet Union.

According to China’s National Space Administration (CNSA), the landing site was near a volcanic plain known as Mons Rümker located in the Oceanus Procellarum, or ‘Ocean of Storms’, a vast lunar mare on the western edge of the moon’s near side.

Shortly after landing, the spacecraft used a drill to obtain 500g of underground samples and then used a mechanical arm to scoop up 1.5kg of surface dust. Samples were packed into a vacuum container inside the ascender.

Before departing, the Chang’e 5 lander vehicle unfolded a Chinese national flag made from fabric and planted it on the surface, making China the second country in the world to do this after the US.

According to the CNSA, the recovery team will now carry out the initial processing of the capsule, which landed in Inner Mongolia, and transport it to Beijing. The sealed samples will then be transferred to specially designed laboratories for analyses and tests.

Xinhua reported that the CNSA’s Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center deputy director, Pei Zhaoyu, said China will make some of the samples available to scientists in other countries. “We hope to cooperate with other countries to build the international lunar scientific research station, which could provide a shared platform for lunar scientific exploration and technological experiments,” he said.

This is the first space mission to bring moon samples back to Earth in more than 40 years.

In 1976, the Soviet Union deployed the last of three successful robotic sample return missions, retrieving 170g of samples from Mare Crisium, or ‘Sea of Crises’. Before that, the US Apollo missions carried the first geologic samples from the moon back to Earth.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic