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The US space agency congratulated China. Nasas top science official, Dr Thomas Zurbuchen, said he hoped the international research community would eventually get the chance to analyse any samples sent home.

"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 international science community," he tweeted.

The 8.2-tonne Change-5 spacecraft "stack" was launched from the Wenchang spaceport in southern China on 24 November (local time). It arrived above the Moon at the weekend and then set about circularising its orbit before splitting in two.

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