China’s Chang’e 5 lunar mission returned to Earth early Thursday morning carrying a load of soil from the moon, the first such sample in more than four decades.
The dome-shaped capsule is less than the height of an average person, and the pitch-black environment added to the difficulty of finding the module. The authorities deployed multiple drones, helicopters, and trucks to the area to search for it.
A video from state broadcaster China Central Television showed that the recovery team’s airborne unit located the return capsule using infrared devices capable of detecting heat from the module. Around 30 minutes after the module landed, the ground team arrived to recover it.
The capsule will now be shipped to Beijing, where scientists will open it and study the lunar sample collected by the mission, China’s National Space Administration said.
With the completion of the Chang’e 5 mission, China has become the third country to successfully return lunar soil samples, after several missions by the United States and the Soviet Union in the ’60s and ’70s. Space enthusiasts around the world had been tracking the mission’s progress and decoding messages the spacecraft sent to Earth.
The deputy director of China’s lunar exploration program, Wu Yanhua, said during a press conference Thursday afternoon that most of the samples collected by the Chang’e 5 mission will be stored at the National Astronomical Observatories in Beijing. He added that an unspecified amount would be sent to Shaoshan, the birthplace of Mao Zedong in the central Hunan province, as a “remote disaster backup site,” Wu said.
The decision was apparently motivated by a line in one of the late chairman’s poems: “clasp the moon in the Ninth Heaven.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Experts inspect the Chang’e 5 return module, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Dec. 17, 2020. People Visual)