A Chinese probe carrying samples from the lunar surface has successfully docked with a spacecraft orbiting the moon, in another space first for the nation, state media reported.
The maneuver on Sunday was part of the ambitious Chang’e-5 mission – named after a mythical Chinese moon goddess – to take back the first lunar samples in four decades.
The cargo capsule with moonstones and ground lifted from the surface on Thursday and docked with the orbit on Sunday morning, the official Xinhua news agency said, referring to China’s national space administration.
Xinhua said it was China’s first “meeting and docking in lunar orbit”.
The cargo capsule’s departure from the lunar surface on Thursday was also a first: the first elevation of a Chinese ship from an alien body.
The capsule transferred the lunar samples to orbits, which will separate and return to Earth, Xinhua said.
China wants to catch up with the United States and Russia after taking decades to match their achievements, and has poured billions into its military-controlled space program.
Its space agency said earlier that “before the rise, the Chinese flag was raised on the surface of the moon.”
Scientists hope the samples from Chang’e-5 will help them learn more about the Moon’s origins and volcanic activity on its surface.
If the return trip is successful, China will be only the third country to have collected samples from the moon after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s.