China sent its Chang'e-5 spacecraft to the moon from Beijing at 11.10pm Beijing time (3.10pm GMT) on Thursday, said the state broadcaster CCTV, as mission engineers watching control screens applauded at length.
Launched on Nov 24, the spacecraft landed on the north of the Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon on Dec 1 with a task to retrieve China's first samples from an extraterrestrial body.
NASA said that one of the USA companies, Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado, proposed collecting only a $1 fee upon returning samples after its lander arrives on the moon in 2023.
Contracts with Lunar Outpost of Golden, Colorado for one dollar; ispace Japan of Tokyo for $ 5,000; ispace Europe of Luxembourg for $ 5,000; And Masten Space Systems in Mojave, California for $ 15,000. Chinese scientists also hope to understand volcanic activity on the Moon after studying the samples from its surface.
"Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang'e 5", Zubuchen tweeted.
China said Thursday its latest lunar probe has finished taking samples of the moon's surface and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth, the first time such a mission has been attempted by any country in more than 40 years.
NASA awarded contracts to four companies on Thursday to collect samples from the moon for $ 1 to $ 15,000, which are extremely low prices meant to set a precedent for the future exploitation of space resources by the private sector.
After America, China has now become the second country to unfurl its national flag on the lunar surface. It would also make China the third country to retrieve lunar samples, after the USA and the Soviet Union.
The timing of its return was not immediately clear and the lander can last up to one moon day, or 14 Earth days, before plummeting temperatures would make it inoperable.
This makes China only the second country to plant its flag on the moon following the United States during the Apollo era.
"China will continue to promote worldwide cooperation and the exploration and use of outer space in the spirit of working for the benefit of all mankind", Hua said.
"When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the global science community". In the Soviet Union's unmanned lunar sampling missions, the spacecraft took off from the moon and returned directly to Earth. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022, possibly to be serviced by a reusable space plane. China's taikonauts and researchers have in a similarly way talked up observed missions to Mars.