The Chinese spacecraft collects lunar samples to take back to Earth

A Chinese spacecraft took samples of the Moon’s surface on Wednesday as part of a mission to bring lunar rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government said, adding a number of successes to Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program.

The Chang’e 5 probe touched the Storm Sea on the near side of the moon on Tuesday after descending from an orbit, the China National Space Administration said. He posted pictures of the barren landing site showing the shadow of the lander.

“Chang’e has collected lunar samples,” the agency said in a statement.

Launched on November 24 from the tropical island of Hainan, the probe is the latest venture in the space program, launching China’s first astronaut in 2003. Beijing also has a spaceship to Mars and aims to land a man on the moon.

This week’s landing is “a historic step in China’s collaboration with the international community to make peaceful use of outer space,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said.

“China will continue to promote international cooperation and the exploration and use of outer space in the spirit of working for the benefit of all mankind,” Hua said.

The landing is scheduled to spend two days on the surface of the moon and collect 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rock and debris. The uppermost section of the probe is returned to the Moon’s orbit to take the samples into a capsule and take them back to Earth, where they land on China’s northern grasslands in mid-December.

If this succeeds, they will receive new samples of lunar rocks for the first time since the 1976 Luna 24 probes in the Soviet Union.

The samples are expected to be made available to scientists in other nations, although it is unclear how much access NASA will have to the U.S. government due to restrictions on cooperation with the military program.

From rocks and debris, scientists hope to learn more about the Moon, including its exact age and the expansion of knowledge about other bodies in our Solar System. Sample collection, including asteroids, is gaining more and more emphasis in many space programs.

American and Russian space officials congratulated the Chinese program.

“Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5. This is not an easy task,” NASA’s head of science mission Thomas Zurbuchen wrote on Twitter.

“When we bring the samples collected on the Moon back to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this valuable cargo that can help the international scientific community.”

Between 1962 and 1972, American astronauts brought back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of lunar samples, some of which are still being analyzed and experimented with.

The Chang’e 5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing. Its predecessor, the Chang’e 4, was the first probe to land on the less-explored far shore of the Moon.

Chinese space program officials said they envision future crew missions with robots, including a permanent research base. No chronology or other details were provided.

The latest flight involves working with the European Space Agency to help track the mission from Earth.

China’s space program proceeded more cautiously than the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was characterized by fatalities and firing failures.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit alone after the Soviet Union and the United States. It launched a temporary crew space station in 2011 and a second in 2016.

China, along with its neighbors, Japan and India, has joined the discovery of Mars in a growing race. Launched in July, the Tianwen 1 probe is heading for the red planet, looking for a landing and a rover for water.