Chinese lunar spacecraft back to Earth

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Beijing (AFP)

A Chinese space probe left the surface of the Moon on Thursday to return to Earth, an ambitious effort to bring back the world’s first lunar samples in four decades.

China has poured billions into its military space program, hoping to have a manned space station by 2022 and eventually send humans to the moon.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the Moon, left the Moon at 11:10 pm (3:10 pm GMT), state television station CCTV said as mission engineers who were trapped on the applauded control screens at length.

A module carrying moon rocks and soil was in orbit after activating a powerful buoyancy engine, the China National Space Administration said of the mission launched from southern China’s Hainan province.

Scientists hope the samples will help them learn about the Moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.

If the return trip is successful, China will only be the third country to obtain samples of the Moon, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is the first such attempt since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

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

The samples will be returned to Earth in a capsule scheduled to land in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China, according to the American space agency NASA.

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Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China’s “space dream”, as he calls it, are on the rise.

Beijing is finally looking to reach the United States and Russia after years of reaching its space landmarks late.

China launched its first satellite in 1970, while human space flights took decades longer – with Yang Liwei becoming China’s first “taikonauta” in 2003.

A Chinese lunar rover landed on the other side of the moon in January 2019 in a global debut that boosted Beijing’s aspirations to become a space superpower.

The latest probe is among a series of ambitious targets, including the creation of a powerful rocket capable of delivering heavier loads than NASA and private rocket firm SpaceX can handle, a lunar base and a manned space station. permanent.

Chinese taikonauts and scientists also spoke of manned missions to Mars.

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