An incredible image from the Chang'e orbiter as the lander approached for docking. You can also see the Earth on the left. Credit: CNSA/CLEP

Video: China Makes First Lunar Orbit Docking Since The Last Apollo Mission

The Chinese Chang'e 5 mission has successfully made a docking in lunar orbit, something that last happened during the Apollo 17 Mission in 1972.

A remarkable success for China’s astronautics! On the evening of December 5, Chang’e 5 took off into lunar orbit with the mission’s orbital compartment. This was the first docking between two ships around the moon since the end of the Apollo 17 manned expedition with astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt in December 1972!

I remind readers that the return mission landed on the moon on December 1st. Over the next two days, Chang’e 5 collected samples from the surface and inside of the lunar primer to a depth of two meters. The samples were loaded on a container located on the take-off stage, after which the stage was launched into lunar orbit on December 3.

This shows on-screen CGI of the docked Chang'e ascent and orbiter spacecraft, and below the actual gripping arm and bar mechanism activated. CNSA/CLEP
This shows on-screen CGI of the docked Chang’e ascent and orbiter spacecraft, and below the actual gripping arm and bar mechanism activated. CNSA/CLEP

On December 3, China’s Chang’e 5 space mission began fulfilling what American astronauts had accomplished in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but unlike the missions at the time, the current procedure was performed. in unmanned mode. We can say that the Chinese mission is an unmanned replica of the Apollo profile, not that of the Soviet robotic Luna expeditions.

As planned, on December 3, the recoverable degree took off smoothly and accelerated rapidly to a lunar orbit with primary parameters of 15 by 180 kilometers. Over the next two days, the degree itself adjusts its orbital parameters so that last night it could align and jump with the orbital compartment waiting for it above.

This scheme of Chang’e 5 is more complex than the direct return modules of Soviet missions to Earth, but the difference is palpable. In the past, the USSR managed to deliver to Earth only a few hundred grams of lunar soil.


Thanks to the jump into lunar orbit, the Americans managed to send people to the moon. China’s current mission is robotic, but lunar docking allows for the collection of much more rock and regolith than was possible during Soviet expeditions. Up to 2 kilograms of samples are expected to arrive on Earth!

In addition, “Chang’e 5” is an unmanned drill to test technologies that will one day be used for manned lunar expeditions in China. In fact, a Chinese manned mission to the surface of the Moon has been planned for this decade, approximately 2029 or 2030.

Why did it take so long for people to return to the Moon? If the Apollo missions were this successful, why stop them? Plus, if the Americans had continued their going to the Moon, I can guarantee you that the Soviet Union would not have stopped either.

I have said it in a previous article – these missions to the Moon were simply too expensive for NASA. It would be bold to say that they did them only to ensure that their space program will be more successful than the Soviet one, and they would send a man to the Moon first.

However, this played a big role in the game and it is a fact – President Kennedy did order to do everything possible to beat the Soviets in the Moon race.

Chang'e 5 snapped this incredible panorama of the Moon's surface. Credit: CNSA/CLEP
Chang’e 5 snapped this incredible panorama of the Moon’s surface. Credit: CNSA/CLEP

Now, about 40 years later, technology has advanced to the point that it is no longer that expensive to send missions and people in space. This means that the Moon is becoming a favorite target once again, and also, that there is a new player in the game – China with their Chang’e program.

Will China send a man to the Moon in the upcoming years? I personally have no doubt about it. Will NASA succeed with their Artemis Plan by 2024? Once again, I have no doubt that this massive mission will be executed to perfection but I do not see it happening in less than 4 years with the current situation around the world.

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• France-Presse, A. (2020, December 06). Chang’e-5: China’s unmanned moon probe delivers samples to orbiting spacecraft. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from

• Lyons, K. (2020, December 05). China’s Chang’e 5 completes docking mission on its way back to Earth. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from

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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