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Chinese spacecraft carrying moon rocks begins its journey back to Earth

A Chinese spacecraft containing a sample of rocks and dust from the moon is on its way back to Earth. The China National Space Administration confirmed that the Chang’e 5 spacecraft completed its second orbital maneuver and moved into the transfer orbit between the moon and Earth, China’s state media organization Xinhua reported on Sunday, December 13.

The probe landed on the moon at the beginning of December, in an anxiety-inducing moment that required carefully touching down on the surface. The descender module then used its tools including a drill to drill down up to 2 meters into the moon rock to collect a sample. It gathered up 2 kilograms (about 4.4 pounds) of moon rock in a sample container and passed these into the ascender portion of the spacecraft which lifted off from the moon and carried the sample back to the orbiter.

The ascender module that had to dock with the orbiter, in a rare and difficult maneuver that has not been achieved since 1972. The docking was successful last week, with the ascender and orbiter meeting up perfectly.

Now the sample is aboard the spacecraft and it is heading back to Earth, the next stage is for the re-entry capsule containing the sample to detach from the rest of the spacecraft. The re-entry module is the part that will travel through Earth’s atmosphere and land in the Inner Mongolia region of China, from where the sample can be collected.

This will make China one of only three countries that have ever collected a sample from the moon, along with the U.S. and Russia. The sample will be analyzed in Chinese labs, and it is expected that China will also share some amount of the sample with other countries for scientific research.

This particular sample is valuable not only because it is a very rare sample of moon rock, but also because of the area it was taken from. The Mons Rümker area in the Oceanus Procellarum region where the sample was taken has rocks that are thought to be much younger than other areas of the moon, which means that studying this sample can help researchers see how the moon has developed over time.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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