In case you haven't noticed, space exploration is truly an international field these days.
The days of NASA and Russian cosmonauts dominating the world of rockets and probes are long gone. Canada's CSA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan's JAXA, and India's ISRO have all given us key insights into the cosmos. But perhaps the biggest new player in space is China.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) started in 1993 and has grown rapidly. Its most ambitious project right now is its Lunar Exploration Program and its Chang'e (say CHUNG-uh) probes, named for the Chinese Moon goddess.
Chang'e 5, a lunar sample vehicle, is on its way back to Earth as we write this. And it's carrying a bunch of Moon rocks and soil for scientists to study, too!
The Moon is back!
In the 1960s and 70s, the Moon was THE place for space exploration. But after NASA landed several astronauts and vehicles on it, it was forgotten for decades. Not any longer.
NASA and the CSA, are very keen to get back there in the next decade. And China has been even more active on the Moon lately. Since 2007, the Chang'e missions have been orbiting and landing on the Moon successfully. This includes the incredible Chang'e 4, which in 2019 became the first probe to land on the far, or dark, side of the Moon.
Chang'e 5's mission was different. And quick, too. Since being launched on November 23, it has flown to the Moon, landed a probe, collected samples, brought those samples back up to an orbiter vehicle, and is now on its way back home. If it lands on Earth according to schedule—on December 16—it will have done the whole trip in just 23 days. Amazing!
While we wait for it return, we can enjoy this footage of its Moon landing on December 1. (We especially dig the part at around 1:35 where it hovers over its landing spot before descending!)
Good luck coming home, Chang'e 5—may the moon goddess be with you!