China’s unmanned space probe, dubbed “little flyer” (Xiaofei), successfully completed a round-trip to the Moon early Saturday morning, safely landing in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region. This is the first lunar return journey for 40 years, following US and Soviet Union missions back in the 1970s.
Chang'e 5-T1's mission was to get to the Moon, travel round it and then return to Earth, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND). This was so that technology from China’s 4th lunar probe, Chang’e-5, could be tested before it takes to the skies in 2017. If successful, this mission will take samples from the Moon’s surface for examination.
At its furthest point, the probe was some 413,000 kilometers from Earth. Of course, it took some pretty pictures of our planet and the Moon along the way. Incredibly, the whole voyage took a mere 8 days to complete.
Before soaring into the Earth’s atmosphere on the home stretch, Xiaofei was traveling some 11.2 kilometers per second (25,000 mph), an incredible speed that can rack up temperatures of over 1500oC (2700oF). The craft therefore had to “bounce” off Earth’s atmosphere in order to slow down before re-entry and landing.
This latest accomplishment forms part of Beijing’s rather ambitious, multi-billion-dollar space program, which they describe as a marker of its rising global stature and mounting technical expertise, according to ABC News. The project is run by the military and hopes to eventually send a man to the Moon, although first the scientists behind the program plan to establish a permanent lunar orbiting station by 2020.