China’s Chang’e-5 moon probe has landed in the Siziwang area of Inner Mongolia in the early hours of Thursday local time, China’s official state news agency Xinhua reported on Wednesday.

The Chinese space capsule is carrying 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples from the moon’s surface. These are the first lunar samples to be brought back to Earth for 44 years.

The capsule separated earlier from its orbiter module and performed a bounce off the Earth’s atmosphere to reduce its speed before passing through and floating down on parachutes. 

Recovering Chang’e-5

Recovery crews had prepared helicopters and off-road vehicles to home-in on signals emitted by the lunar spacecraft and locate it in the darkness.

“Ground crews are on their way to retrieve the approximately 300 kilogram capsule,” tweeted state-owned English-language China Global Television Network (CGTN).

“The ground crew will assess the capsule and manipulate the lunar lander, eventually moving it to a secure location,” CGTN wrote, adding that personnel were securing the location of the returner ahead of the ground crew’s arrival.

Chinese President Xi congratulates mission

Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated the success of the Chang’e-5 mission, state-owned English-language newspaper Global Times reported.

“These samples will be a treasure trove!” Brad Jolliff, director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University told news agency AP.

“My hat is off to our Chinese colleagues for pulling off a very difficult mission; the science that will flow from analysis of the returned samples will be a legacy that will last for many, many years, and hopefully will involve the international community of scientists.”

China's red flag with yellow stars on the moon

China has an increasingly ambitious space program

China in space

The landing marks the end of a 23-day mission that saw the spacecraft land on the moon and collect samples before its ascension. It docked with a moon orbiter before its four-day trip back to Earth.

With this mission, China became only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

The latest breakthrough for China’s increasingly ambitious space program that includes a robotic mission to Mars and plans for a permanent orbiting space station.

kmm/rc (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)