Chinese probe completes sampling of the moon

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Beijing (AFP)

A Chinese space probe sent to collect material from a previously unexplored part of the moon has completed its mission and is preparing to send back the world’s first lunar samples in four decades, Beijing said on Thursday.

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 moon goddess, landed on the moon Tuesday and has now completed the collection of lunar rocks and soil, said the National Space Administration of China.

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

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

State media said this week that the spacecraft was preparing for “about 48 hours” of tasks on the lunar surface.

If successful, China will only be the third country to have retrieved 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 CNSA on Thursday said that Chang’e-5 completed sampling and successfully packaged the collected materials in a special container on Wednesday night.

“Scientific detection was carried out as planned,” said the space agency, without providing details.

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

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