Beijing, Dec 4 (efe-epa).- Chinese space probe Chang’e-5’s ascender module has left the surface of the moon and is in orbit readying to bring back to Earth the first collection of lunar rock and dust in more than 40 years.
It also marked the first time that the Asian country has carried out a takeoff on an extraterrestrial body, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said late Thursday night in a statement.
“At 23:10 [15.10 GMT] on December 3, the ascent module’s 3000N engine was working for about 6 minutes and successfully sent the ascender carrying the sample to the scheduled orbit around the moon,” the text said.
The Chang’e-5 probe comprises modules for orbiting, landing, ascending and returning, according to state media Xinhua on Friday.
Before takeoff, a Chinese flag was unfurled from the lander-ascender combination, CNSA said.
The landing module served as a launch pad for the ascent module, which lifted off before making a series of altitude and positioning modifications and, finally, entered orbit, it added.
The next step will be the coupling of the ascent module with the return module, which remained in orbit while part of the probe carried out the collection of samples on the Moon.
Once docked, they will proceed to return to Earth later this month, landing in the northern Chinese province of Inner Mongolia.
On Tuesday, the probe successfully landed in northern Mons Rümker, an elevated area in the Oceanus Procellarum, on the visible side of the Moon, an area not visited to date by astronauts or unmanned space missions.
The samples were collected in two different spots: on the surface of the Moon, using a robotic arm, and underground, drilling 2 meters down to obtain samples that could date from much earlier periods.
The collected material was stored in a vacuum-sealed container to ensure that it is “not affected by the external environment during the return to Earth,” the CNSA said.
If completed successfully, the mission would make China the third country capable of collecting lunar samples after the United States and the former Soviet Union previously did so in the 1970s.
Chang’e-5 was launched on Nov. 24 by the Long March-5 rocket, which on July 23 successfully carried China’s first mission to Mars, Tianwen-1, into space. It is expected to arrive on the Red Planet in May.
The Chang’e program (named in honor of a goddess who, according to Chinese mythology, lives on the moon) began with the launch of an orbital probe in 2007.
The Asian country made its first moon landing in 2013, and in January 2019 it managed to land the Chang’e-4 probe on its far side, where it remains – a milestone never achieved before in the history of lunar exploration.
The ultimate goal of the program is a manned mission to the moon and the construction of a science base, although no date has been set for this. EFE-EPA