After America, China has now become the second country to unfurl its national flag on the lunar surface. China’s  Chang’e-5 probe has taken off from the moon to return to earth after planting the national flag.

The China National Space Administration (CSNA) reported that the spacecraft is bringing the country’s first lunar samples, and has started its return journey from the moon. The country’s space authority has also released pictures of the Chinese flag placed on the lunar surface.

The sample was collected and sealed, and then the ascender of Chang’e-5 took off from the lunar surface on Thursday at 11:10 pm (Beijing Time), the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The spacecraft comprises an orbiter, a lander, an ascender, and a returner. It was launched on November 24, and its lander-ascender combination touched down on the north of the Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon on December 1.  

The uncrewed mission, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, aimed to collect lunar material.

An engine, after working for about six minutes, pushed the ascender to present lunar orbit, Xing Zhuoyi, a designer of the Chang’e-5 probe from China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said.

Upon landing, the lander vehicle drilled into the ground with a robotic arm, then transfer its soil and rock samples to an ascender vehicle that would lift off and dock with an orbiting module.

Video footage from China’s state broadcaster CCTV showed the probe taking off from the surface of the Moon in a bright burst of light, AFP reported.

Scientists are hoping to learn about the Moon’s origins, formation, and volcanic activity on its surface from the samples collected. 

If the return journey concludes successfully, China will be only the third country to have samples from the moon following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January last year, the Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first space probe from any nation to do so.

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