The Chang'e 5 return capsule photographed at the landing site. Credit: New China

China Successfully Returns First Moon Rocks Since 1976

The Chinese Chang'e 5 mission to the surface of the Moon has now ended in complete success.

This day is marked by the successful completion of an epic odyssey to the moon and back! The return capsule of the “Chang’e 5” mission has returned to Earth! The whole event was broadcasted in real-time on Chinese television.

Chang’e 5 was the first cargo mission to deliver lunar material to Earth after a 44-year hiatus.

I remind readers that before today, the last expedition that collected soil and rocks from our natural satellite and successfully transported them to our planet was that of the Soviet automatic interplanetary station “Luna 24” in 1976.

The Chinese did their job just as well as the missions from the American Apollo project between 1969 and 1972. During this period, a total of 12 people set foot on the moon in the course of six descending expeditions. In order to achieve this, after the astronauts took off, the Americans made complex jumps on the lunar with the command modules in lunar orbit.

I recall the most important facts from the Chang’e 5 mission:

• The mission was launched on November 23 by the Chinese Long March 5 missile.

• The lander reached the surface of the Moon on December 1, and the sampling itself took place the next day.

• On December 3, the take-off stage was launched from the lunar surface.

• On December 5, Chang’e 5 made a dock with the orbital compartment. This was the first docking in lunar orbit since the Apollo 17 expedition in December 1972.

• After this procedure, the return to Earth could begin. China embarked on the return journey on December 12th.

An amazing image I would like to remind you of. This is from shortly before the Chang'e 5 orbital docking. Credit: CNSA
An amazing image I would like to remind you of. This is from shortly before the Chang’e 5 orbital docking. Credit: CNSA

Indeed, the Chinese have made an incredible achievement that we will remember for a long time! 

And from what we know currently, this is just the beginning of the China National Space Administration. By far, this is their greatest success and it changes everything. We know of plans to send the first human mission to the Moon around the end of the decade – possibly 2029 – 2031.

Was this mission to the Moon a failure, it would likely interfere with their original plans in some way or another. To me, now the Chinese agency can have the positivity and certainty for future achievements.

The next phases of the mission are already in the making. The success of Chang’e 5 will be followed by Chang’e  7 and 8, possibly in the mid-2020s which should include the establishment of a small lunar station for future manned missions.

Aside from the future lunar exploration program, we know that the technology used in the successful Chang’e 5 mission will likely be used for similar purposes in the future too. In other words, the China National Space Administration could work on similar missions for soil collection from Mars or asteroids.

The way I see it, there is a long way to go until CNSA can compare to the capabilities of NASA or Roscosmos but I am glad that there is a new strong player on the horizon. I am certain we will see many other achievements by the future missions after Chang’e 5.

However, what I hope for in the future is more coordination between the countries and the agencies, and perhaps major joined missions. There is no doubt that space is the new frontier and each of the Great Powers would like to be at the front of the new wave of space explorations.

However, I believe that we can achieve even the unbelievable with joined forces and efforts. This goes for everything in the world, not only space exploration.

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Chang, K., & Myers, S. (2020, December 16). China Moon Mission’s Lunar Rocks Land on Earth.

Hauser, J., & Rahim, Z. (2020, December 16). China’s Chang’e 5 mission returns to Earth with moon samples.

Wall, M. (2020, December 16). China’s Chang’e 5 capsule lands on Earth with the 1st new moon samples in 44 years.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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