China recovers its first unmanned spacecraft to return from moon

Saturday saw China recover its first spacecraft to take part in an experiment of flying to the moon and returning. While the craft didn't actually land on the surface, as that's what this mission was practice for, it did successfully fly around the moon on an eight-day trip, marking the first time in almost 40 years that an unmanned ship returned to Earth after making a lunar rotation.

China's program to explore the moon has already seen the nation launch two probes to orbit the celestial body, as well as land a spacecraft on the surface and deliver a rover, however neither of those projects were intended to return to Earth. The country's next goal is to become the world's third nation, after the U.S. and Russia, to have a spacecraft land and gather soil samples from the moon's surface, and then successfully come back to Earth. China hope to achieve this sometime in 2017.

The returning spacecraft, dubbed the Chang'e 5 Test Vehicle, was collected from Inner Mongolia, where it landed just before dawn, having slowed itself down by first bouncing off the atmosphere before entry. The main goal of this mission was to test and gather data on re-entering Earth's atmosphere, presumably to make sure any future missions aren't for nothing by getting burned up after collecting samples.

The Chinese government hasn't ruled out the possibility of using humans in future lunar missions, but there aren't any current plans to do so. China only put its first astronaut into space in 2003, but has since then carried out a spacewalk and launched a space station with crew for a brief period.

SOURCE Mashable