BEIJING — China on Saturday successfully recovered an experimental spacecraft that flew around the moon and back in a test run for the country's first robotic round trip to the lunar surface. The Chang'e 5-T1 probe's eight-day trip marked the first time in almost four decades that a spacecraft has returned to Earth after traveling around the moon.
China plans to send a spacecraft to the moon in 2017 and have it return to Earth after collecting soil samples. The latest mission was aimed at obtaining experimental data and testing technologies for re-entry through Earth's atmosphere involving guidance, navigation and control, heat shield designs, and trajectory fine-tuning for the future moon lander, christened Chang'e 5. The spacecraft returned to Earth using a Soviet-designed method in which it first bounced off the atmosphere in order to slow its entry speed and avoid burning up. It then landed on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia just before dawn.