China has successfully launched its Chang’e-5 sample return mission to the Moon.
The Long March-5 rocket took off from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in China’s Hainan Province at 3:31 p.m. Eastern time.
It’s a historic moment: the last successful lunar return mission occurred in 1976 when the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 returned 170 grams of lunar soil to the Earth.
Liftoff! Chang'e-5 heads to space atop the fifth Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket pic.twitter.com/y7knc82v0T
— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) November 23, 2020
Booster separation occurred roughly five minutes into the flight. First stage separation occurred three minutes later.
The Chang’e-5 lander is headed to the western edge of the near side of the Moon, where the surrounding natural formations are far younger than the ones sampled by Apollo astronauts in the 1960s and 70s.
The launch also follows the success of predecessor Chang’e-4, which became the first spacecraft to safely touch down on the far side of the Moon in January 2019.
The Chang’e-5 lander will spend less than two Earth weeks on the Moon, which represents the daytime portion of just one day on the Moon.
It will attempt to scoop up two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rock samples before returning them back to Earth in mid-December.
More on the launch: Watch China Launch Its Lunar Sample Return Mission Live