A Chinese probe that landed on the moon transferred rocks to an orbiter Sunday in preparation for returning samples of the lunar surface to Earth for the first time in almost 45 years, the space agency announced.
The upper stage of the Change’e lander blasted off Friday from the lunar surface. If the mission succeeds, it will make China the third country after the United States and former Soviet Union to bring moon rocks to Earth.
The ascent stage docked with a robot spacecraft orbiting the moon at 5:42 a.m. Sunday (2142 GMT Saturday), state media reported, citing the China National Space Administration. A container with 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks was transferred to the orbiter 30 minutes later.
A capsule carrying the rock samples is due to land in China’s northern grasslands in the Inner Mongolia region in mid-December. They will be the first fresh samples of the lunar surface obtained by scientists since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 probe in 1976.
The CNSA released a photo taken by the orbiter showing the ascent stage rocket approaching for a rendezvous.
China is in the midst of a series of increasingly ambitious space missions including a probe en route to Mars and development of a reusable space plane. Plans call for returning a human to the moon five decades after American astronauts.