China's historic Moon sample grabber set to return to Earth imminently

In November, China launched its Chang’e 5 Moon lander towards our lunar satellite. The spacecraft reached the Moon without a hitch, before going down to collect samples on December 1. Now the spacecraft is on its way back to Earth, with officials stating it will arrive on late Wednesday, December 16, or the early hours of Thursday, December 17.

By doing so, China has become the first nation to retrieve lunar rock in 45 years and only the third country in the world to do so – behind the US and the former USSR.

Experts are the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said Chang’e 5 began adjusting its rockets in the early hours of Wednesday, December 16.

The machine, which is carrying 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples, is on course to land in the Siziwang district of the vast Inner Mongolia.

However, retrieving the object will be a tough task.

The small size of the craft and the sheer range it could land in will make the search difficult.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed four helicopters on standby on Wednesday morning, all of which are being readied to go on the hunt for the small craft.

The Chang’e 5 reached the Moon just two days after launching aboard a Long March 5 on November 23.

Following several days in orbit around the Moon, Chang’e 5 separated from the rocket, where it began its own orbit.

READ MORE: China Moon landing: Chang’e-5 successfully transfers Moon sample

But the country’s extraterrestrial ambitions will not end there.

China will begin work on a Moon-base within the next decade to ready for future manned missions to the Red Planet.

Following the launch on November 23, state media swiftly announced how the “perfect” Long March-5 launch meant China had finally achieved the rank of elite “space superpower”.

An editorial by the state-run People’s Daily wrote: “The world has not seen any new lunar samples for more than four decades.

“And now it’s high time China ended the lull in mankind’s lunar exploration and research, to not only leave China’s stamp on the Earth’s natural satellite but also bring part of it to Earth, with lunar rock, soil and regolith samples available for the worldwide scientific community to study.”