Chinese probe lands on Moon to gather lunar samples
Beijing has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon.
The Chang'e-5 spacecraft -- named for the mythical Chinese moon goddess -- touched down on the near side of the Moon on Tuesday, and is now gathering samples from the surface, the China National Space Administration said.
If the return journey is successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, followiChinese probe lands on Moon to gather lunar samplesng the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
This is the first such attempt since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 mission in 1976.
State media on Wednesday described the mission as "one of China's most complicated and challenging space missions so far".
State broadcaster CCTV showed rows of scientists at mission control, wearing blue jackets emblazoned with Chinese flags, monitoring the probe then clapping after it successfully touched down.
- 'No easy task' -
The spacecraft plans collect two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of material in a previously unexplored area known as Oceanus Procellarum -- or "Ocean of Storms" -- a vast lava plain, according to the science journal Nature.
State media said the craft was preparing for "around 48 hours" of tasks on the lunar surface.
The mission is technically challenging and involves several innovations not seen during previous attempts at collecting moon rocks, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics researcher Jonathan McDowell told AFP last month.
Thomas Zurbuchen, a top official at NASA's science mission directorate, congratulated China on the landing.
"This is no easy task," he tweeted. "When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community."
- 'Space dream' -
Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China's "space dream", as he calls it, have been put into overdrive.
Beijing is looking to finally catch up with the US and Russia after years of belatedly matching their space milestones.
The latest probe is among a slew of ambitious targets, which include creating a powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads heavier than those NASA and private rocket firm SpaceX can handle, a lunar base, and a permanently crewed space station.
China's taikonauts and scientists have also talked up crewed missions to Mars.