The Chinese Chang’e 5 lunar lander has begun collecting samples from the surface of the Moon after a successful touchdown.
The Chang’e 5 mission was launched aboard a Long March 5 on November 23. After separating from its orbiter, the lander and ascent vehicle touched down on the lunar surface at 15:11 UTC on December 1.
Once on the surface of the Moon, the lander deployed its solar wing and directional antenna and prepared for ground operations. Utilising a drill and a small trowel, the lander is designed to collect a total of 2 kilograms of samples from the lunar surface and from a depth of 2 meters below the surface.
According to Chinese space agency CNSA, the Chang’e 5 lander is currently performing multi-point sampling of the lunar surface around it. Once complete, the sampling drill will burrow to its target depth to retrieve the last of the samples.
Following two days of ground operations, the samples will be loaded into the ascent vehicle and launched to rendezvous with the orbiter for its journey back to Earth. The sample is expected to be returned to Earth on December 17.
Only one other robotic mission, the Soviet Union’s Luna 16, has successfully returned samples from the surface of the Moon. The samples collected by Lunar 16 in 1976 and the more than 380 kilograms of samples collected during NASA’s Apollo program are the only samples humankind has ever retrieved from our closest celestial neighbour.