China's most sophisticated and challenging space adventure – the Chang'e 5 robotic lunar mission – ended successfully early Thursday morning with its cargo of lunar rocks and dust landing on the grasslands in northern China.
The China National Space Administration said in a statement that Chang'e 5's reentry capsule touched down on its predetermined landing site in Siziwang banner of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region at 1:59 am.
The recovery team will make initial processing of the capsule and then use a plane to transport it to Beijing where it will be opened for technicians to remove the container holding lunar samples, the administration said.
The reentry and landing started around 1:00 am; the capsule then separated from the orbiter around 5,000 kilometres above the southern Atlantic Ocean and entered the atmosphere at 1:33 am.
The landing was slowed by parachutes deployed about 10 kilometres above the ground. After landing safely on snow-covered grasslands, Recovery personnel sent from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center soon were soon on hand to retrieve the capsule.
During Chang'e 5's two days on the Moon, it collected two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of material in a volcanic area called Mons Ruemker in the Oceanus Procellarum – a region that was previously unexplored, China's space agency said.
While there it also raised the Chinese flag, according to the agency.
The probe's departure was also the first time China had achieved take-off from another celestial body.
Scientists hope the samples inside will give insights into the Moon's origins and volcanic activity, though a more immediate focus was on how the mission showcased China's technological advances.
The successful landing marked the completion of the historic 23-day Chang'e 5 expedition, the first in more than 40 years to bring lunar samples back to Earth and a feat that makes China only the the third country after the United States and the former Soviet Union to achieve this accomplishment.