Chang’e-5’s ascender has lifted off from the moon on its way to an rendezvous with an orbital vehicle that will transport its lunar soil samples back to Earth.
Chinese media are reporting the ascender successfully reached orbit after lifting off from the Ocean of Storms. It is expected to rendezvous and dock with the orbiter-return vehicle on Saturday.
The ascender will transfer its samples to the return vehicle, which is scheduled to land under parachute in China’s Inner Mongolia on Dec. 16.
Chang’e-5’s lander collected soil from the surface using a drill and a robotic arm with a scoop. The goal was to collect at least 2 kg (4.4 lb) of soil.
If successful, China will become only the third nation to return samples from the moon after the United States and the Soviet Union.
Chang’e-5’s liftoff was the first from the lunar surface since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. And it was the first vehicle to enter lunar orbit after lifting off from the surface since the U.S. Apollo 17 manned mission in December 1972.