China’s Chang’e 5 mission has touched down on the surface of the moon, the country’s media reports. Next, the lander will drill to collect volcanic moon rock samples and scoop up some lunar dirt for return to Earth later this month.
China’s space agency launched the Chang’e 5 mission atop of one of its Long March 5 rockets on Nov. 23. The lunar-sample return marks the first such mission by any country in decades.
The landing came just before 7:15 a.m. PT on Tuesday. The gear is now expected to gather its samples and stow them in a small spacecraft atop the lander, which will then lift off in about 48 hours. After that, the ascent vehicle will transfer the samples to an orbiter now circling the moon that will transport them back to Earth.
According to NASASpaceflight.com, landing was expected to take place near Mons Rumker, a region of the moon that has seen volcanic activity more recently than other parts of our natural satellite. This could mean that the area is home to some of the youngest moon rocks around, providing a new window into its geology.
The China National Space Administration says the Chang’e 5 lander will drill into the lunar surface “to collect underground rocks” and use a mechanical arm to scoop up samples of surface soil. The ascent probe will lift about 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of samples from the moon’s surface for transport back to Earth. The sample is expected to land on Dec. 15 in Inner Mongolia, where it will be collected for study.
The Soviets were the last to bring lunar dirt back home, with the Luna 24 mission in 1976.
Chang’e 5 gets its name from the Chinese moon goddess and follows the, which sent a lander and rover to the far side of the moon, where they’ve been taking some interesting photos for almost two years now.