China’s Chang’e 5 mission to the moon has already left our natural satellite in its rearview. China’s National Space Administration announced Thursday that its ascent module had blasted off from atop the lander, carrying samples of rock and soil it drilled and scooped from the lunar surface.
The mission blasted off from China on Nov. 23 and landed on the moon just two days ago, on Tuesday. Video clips from Chinese media making the rounds show the lander’s robotic arm and drill hard at work during its short shift on another world.
During its stay, the spacecraft also sent back the above massive panoramic view from its post on a lunar plain of relatively young volcanic moon rock.
The image above is just about half of the full high-resolution shot, which shows both distant hills from the lander’s vantage point and also how the feet of the craft dug into the soft, gravel-like surface of the moon on touchdown Tuesday. (Download the whole file here.) Zooming in around the foot of the lander in particular provides a real sense of the desolate, dry, desertlike terrain.
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Images purported to be from the mission have also been shared on Chinese social media, showing hundreds of images taken during the descent and landing stitched together into a single time-lapse video:
After the ascent module docks with a waiting orbiter above the moon, it’ll return for a landing in China in mid-December, where the samples will be collected and studied.This marks the first such sample return from the moon since the 1970s.