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China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft successfully lifts off from the moon

The Chang’e 5 mission is the latest of a series of increasingly ambitious missions executed by Beijing’s space program.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, technical personnel work at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing, Thursday Dec. 3, 2020. A Chinese lunar probe lifted off from the moon Thursday night with a cargo of lunar samples on the first stage of its return to Earth, state media reported.
(Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)

A Chinese spacecraft successfully lifted off from the moon carrying a load of lunar rocks on Thursday night, marking the first stage of its return to Earth, the Associated Press reports.

In a mission known as the Chang’e 5, the lunar craft is the China’s third space vehicle to land on the moon and the first to take off from it again.

The spacecraft touched down on the moon’s Sea of Storms on Tuesday and took photos and gathered four pounds of lunar rocks over a two day period. According to the Associated Press, the Chang’e 5’s vehicle will be the first spacecraft to retrieve samples from the moon since the Soviets did so in the 1970s.

The Chang’e 5’s ascent vehicle departed from the moon shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time on Thursday and will rendezvous with a return vehicle in lunar orbit.

The vehicle will then transfer the lunar samples into a special canister to avoid contamination, according to the China National Space Administration, the Associated Press reports. The sample-filled capsule is due to touchdown in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia in the middle December.

Right before Chang’e 5’s ascent vehicle lifted off from the moon, CBS News reports that its lander unfurled the first free-standing Chinese flag ever to appear on the moon. The New York Post’s Twitter account recently posted an image of the historic moment:

CBS News reports that, on Tuesday, NASA’s science director, Thomas Zurbuchen, tweeted out a congratulatory message to China after the Chang’e 5 lunar vehicle landed safely on the moon:

The Chang’e 5 is only the latest of a series of increasingly ambitious missions executed by Beijing’s space program which, according to CBS News, also has a rover and an orbiter currently en route to Mars.