China has completed its first return mission to the moon with the successful re-entry and landing on Earth of an unmanned probe, state media reported.

The probe, Chang’e 5-T1, landed safely in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region, state news agency Xinhua said, citing the Beijing Aerospace Control Centre.

Xinhua said the probe, dubbed “Xiaofei” (little flyer) on social media, took “some incredible pictures” of the Earth and the moon. It is the first trip around the moon and back since US and Russian flights of the 1970s, 40 years ago.

Prior to re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere the unnamed probe had been travelling at 11.2 kilometres per second (25,000 miles per hour), a speed that can generate temperatures of more than 1,500C (2,700F), the news agency reported.

To slow it down scientists let the craft “bounce” off Earth’s atmosphere before re-entering again and landing.

The probe’s mission was to travel to the moon, fly around it and head back to Earth, said the the state science and technology agency, Sastind. The module went 413,000km from Earth at its furthest point.

The mission was launched to test technology to be used in the Chang’e-5, China’s fourth lunar probe, which aims to gather and return samples from the surface in 2017.

The military-run space project has plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually to send a human to the moon.

China currently has a robotic rover, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), on the moon. It landed on 14 December 2013 and completed parts of its mission before grinding to a halt on 25 January 2014 due to equipment failure.

source: Guardian UK