Moon rocks in hand, China prepares for future moon missions

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A model of China's Chang'e 5 lunar orbiter and lander are displayed before a press conference at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. Following the successful return of moon rocks by its Chang'e 5 robotic probe, China is preparing for future missions that could set the stage for an eventual lunar base to host human explorers. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

BEIJING – Following the successful return of moon rocks by its Chang’e 5 robotic probe, China is preparing for future missions that could set the stage for an eventual lunar base to host human explorers, a top space program official said Thursday.

China's next three lunar missions are on track, along with programs for returning samples from Mars and exploring asteroids and the planet Jupiter, Deputy Chief Commander of the China Lunar Exploration Program Wu Yanhua said.

“Exploring the truth of the universe is just beginning,” Wu said at a news conference held hours after the Chang’e 5′s capsule parachuted to a landing in Inner Mongolia carrying the first lunar samples to be brought to Earth in more than 40 years.

Named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, the Chang'e program has made three landings there, including on its less explored far side. Chang'e 6, scheduled for a 2023 launch, is to collect more samples from the lunar south pole, while its two successors are to conduct detailed surveys and test technologies needed for the construction of a science base on the moon.

No dates have been given for Chang'e 7 and 8, or for a crewed mission to the moon that China says is in the works, or for the construction of a lunar base.

“China is willing to keep on contributing to the world and enhancing human well-being with Chinese space solutions," Wu said.

The capsule of the Chang’e 5 probe and its cargo of samples were flown to the space program’s Beijing campus after landing just before 2 a.m. on Thursday.

The mission achieved firsts for China's lunar exploration program in collecting samples, launching a vehicle from the moon’s surface and docking it with the capsule to transfer the samples for their voyage to Earth, the China National Space Administration said in a statement issued following the landing.