On December 16, the return capsule of the Chinese mission Chang'e 5 with the soil and rock extracted on the Moon made a successful landing in snow-covered Inner Mongolia at 17:59 GMT. Thus, China became the third country after the USA and the USSR that managed to take and deliver samples of lunar soil to Earth. The American Apollo and Soviet Luna missions brought Moon samples home more than 40 years ago. The Chang'e 5 landing was broadcast on YouTube.

The newly-obtained samples should help scientists study the history of the Moon and its formation. It is not clear yet how many samples exactly the lander system dug up, but possibly in the range of 2-4 kilos. The samples will eventually be shared with the UN and other international partners as well as put on display in a national museum.

The return capsule was noticed by helicopters using infrared cameras, and support staff planted a Chinese flag in the grassland near the module after its arrival. The mission targeted a high volcanic region called Mons Rümker in the northwest of the Moon. Samples from this area are supposed to be more than 1.2 billion years old.

A capsule with regolith samples will soon be transported by plane to Beijing, where Chinese scientists will carefully study the lunar rock. As noted, Russian and American scientists have already turned to China with a request to share the collected lunar soil, since, over the many years that have passed since the last delivery of regolith, the samples have dried up and become unusable.

The Chang'e 5 mission was launched on November 24. The probe landed on the visible side of the Moon, collected lunar soil, placed it in a special compartment of the module for take-off.

China also hopes to build a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually send humans to the Moon.