China announced yesterday that it’s Chang’e-5 probe had successfully touched down on the lunar surface. The probe completed its drilling, sampling, and sealing process for its lunar soil samples at 04:53 BJT on Wednesday. The successfully gathered samples marked the first automatic sampling to take place on the moon.
China says that gathering the material will help provide further understanding of how the moon evolved geologically. The samples will also be used to help understand solar activity more clearly. Sample gathering came after the probe landed on the moon’s near side late on Tuesday of this week.
The first action the probe carried out after landing was to unfolded solar panels. Both a drill and a mechanical arm were used to collect lunar soil samples. China shared a video of the spacecraft touching down on YouTube. The video included some still shots showing the probe during its sampling mission.
The video clearly shows samples of lunar soil and material being dumped into a container aboard the spacecraft. The next phase of the mission would presumably be to launch the ascent portion of the module to return the samples to earth. China has gathered its samples from a moon region not previously sampled by the United States or the Soviet Union.
If China can successfully return samples to Earth, it will become only the third country to do so. The Chinese probe isn’t returning a lot of material, intending to bring back around two kilograms of soil and rocks. During the Apollo missions, the US returned hundreds of pounds of material. The Soviet Union conducted the last sample return mission, Luna 24, in 1