Chinese probe leaves Moon for return to Earth
Beijing is looking to catch up with the US and Russia after taking decades to match its rivals' achievements and has poured billions into its military-run space programme.
A module carrying lunar rocks and soil was launched into orbit by a powerful thrust engine, officials said of the mission that landed Tuesday on the Moon.
The space agency said that "before lift-off, the Chinese flag was raised on the moon's surface".
It added that this was the first time that China had achieved take-off from an extraterrestrial body.
The module then must undergo the delicate operation of linking up with the part of the spacecraft that is to bring the specimens back to Earth, official news agency Xinhua reported.
Scientists hope the samples will help them learn about the Moon's origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.
- Space dreams -
This is the first such attempt since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 mission in 1976.
The spacecraft's mission was to collect two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of material in an area known as Oceanus Procellarum -- or "Ocean of Storms" -- a vast, previously unexplored lava plain, according to the science journal Nature.
Under President Xi Jinping, plans for China's "space dream", as he calls it, have been put into overdrive.
A Chinese lunar rover landed on the far side of the Moon in January 2019 in a global first that boosted Beijing's aspirations to become a space superpower.
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.