The ascender of China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft took off from the surface of the moon on Thursday night, Beijing time, carrying a canister loaded with lunar dust and rocks. State news agency Xinhua reported just before midnight that the ascender had successfully lifted off. “This represented the first-ever Chinese spacecraft to take off from an extraterrestrial body,” Xinhua said. The lunar dust and rocks will be transferred to a return capsule that is expected to land in the snow-covered grasslands of Inner Mongolia in northern China in less than two weeks. If it does, it will be the first time lunar samples will be brought back to Earth since the US and Soviet missions in the 1960s and ’70s. The spacecraft had been busy since it landed near the peak of Mons Rümker , a mountain in the Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms) region of the moon, after 11pm Beijing time on Tuesday. Its lander scooped about 1.5kg (3.3 pounds) of rock and dirt from the surface using a robotic arm and drilled down about 2 metres (6.6 feet) for 500 grams (1.1 pounds) of underground samples. All of it had to be done before its solar battery ran out of power. For the spacecraft’s deputy chief designer, Hong Xin, and his team at the Shanghai Institute of Space Propulsion, it will be a nervous wait as the Chang’e 5 makes its way back to Earth. Hong Kong's Chang'e-3 hero tells young people to reach for the stars Their biggest worry was the lift-off from the moon – rocket engines on the ascender had to withstand searing daytime heat and other environmental challenges, according to China Space News . There was also a chance parts could have come loose when the Chang’e 5 touched down, and that lunar dust could interfere with components or sensors. To reduce that risk, Hong’s team built the rocket engines with the precision of watchmakers so they could handle any expansion or contraction caused by temperature variations while preventing dust or debris from getting in, the newspaper said. The mission is being carefully monitored by a network of satellite stations watching the ascender to correct any deviation in its course as it makes its way up from the moon, to make sure it docks at a platform in lunar orbit. From there, the canister will be transferred to the return capsule. There are 10 ground stations in China, two electronic surveillance ships in the Pacific Ocean and two overseas ground stations run by China in Argentina and Namibia. But even with so many stations tracking the spacecraft, the live-stream images from its on-board cameras cut out during the last leg of its descent to the moon on Tuesday. Chinese state media reported that the interruption was caused by the limited bandwidth of communication, citing unnamed space experts. They said the spacecraft’s sensors had been working and sending data back to Earth, taking communication capacity to its limit. Data such as flight status and radar feeds took priority over images. The satellite communication network also has a gap in the southern Pacific Ocean as Australia is not providing data for the mission, according to a map on display in China’s flight control room. The bold ambitions behind China’s Chang’e 5 moon mission The mission comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries , and Reuters reported in September that China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Australia after its contract expires, though it is unclear when the lease runs out. But Europe had offered help, with three ground stations run by the European Space Agency in western Europe, northwest Africa and Central America to provide backup should any of the China-run stations lose contact, according to the Chinese space authorities. China will also activate a mobile tracking station in Karachi, Pakistan to maintain communication during the last leg of the journey.