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Moon rock brought to Earth for first time in four decades

China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft has successfully returned to Earth, bringing with it a sample of rock from the moon.

It’s the first moon rock to be brought to Earth in 44 years.

Chinese state media said the uncrewed spacecraft landed in the Inner Mongolia region on Wednesday, December 16, at the end of a complex 23-day mission.

During its voyage, the probe made a successful landing on the moon before drilling about two meters beneath the lunar surface to gather the sample. It also took material from the surface. It then placed the collected rocks inside a container before loading it onto an ascent vehicle. The ascent vehicle then departed the moon and transferred the sample to the main spacecraft for the trip home.

Before now, only two other countries have successfully brought home pieces of moon rock: The U.S. during its Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the Soviets in 1976.

What makes this latest effort so exciting is the age of the collected rock, which is said to be billions of years younger than the previously collected samples. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said the geological sample will give scientists the chance to learn more about the formation, structure, and history of the moon. The mission also allowed the space agency to test new technology in advance of more challenging space trips in the future

With this latest mission, China has now made a total of three landings on the moon. Its Chang’e 3 mission touched down in 2013, while Chang’e 4 visited in 2019.

In other missions demonstrating China’s growing interest in space exploration, the Asian nation earlier this year sent a spacecraft to Mars, marking the first time for a mission to send an orbiter, a lander, and a rover to the red planet at the same time. The spacecraft is set to reach the Martian surface in February 2021 — around the same time as NASA’s Perseverance rover and another mission launched by the United Arab Emirates.

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