Chinese space probe returning to Earth carrying lunar samples: state media

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Beijing (AFP)

An unmanned Chinese spacecraft carrying rocks and soil from the moon returned safely to Earth early Thursday in the first mission in four decades to collect lunar samples, the Xinhua News Agency said.

The return module of the space probe known as the Chang’e-5 has landed in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China, Xinhua said, citing China’s National Space Administration.

Beijing is looking to catch up with the United States and Russia after taking decades to match the achievements of its rivals and investing billions in its military space program.

The spacecraft, named after a mythical Chinese moon goddess, landed on the moon on December 1 and began its return journey two days later. While on the moon, he hoisted the Chinese flag, the Chinese space agency said.

Scientists hope the samples will help them discover the origins, formation and volcanic activity of the Moon on its surface.

With this mission, China became the third country to collect samples from the Moon, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

It was the first such attempt since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

The spacecraft’s mission was to collect two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of material from an area known as Oceanus Procellarum – or “Ocean of Storms” – a vast, hitherto unexplored lava plain, according to the scientific journal Nature.

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s “space dream” plans, as he calls it, have been damaged.

China hopes to have a manned space station by 2022 and possibly send humans to the moon.

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