A mystery is brewing 240,000 miles from Earth, where a spacecraft is about to crash into the moon. The mystery? Whose spacecraft is it.
But NASA said on Tuesday it believes the rocket to be from China's Chang'e 5 test vehicle which launched in October of 2014. The agency said the rocket was briefly in Earth orbit before it was sent it into a lunar transfer orbit. The test was for a future mission to land on the moon, collect samples and return them to Earth.
After circling the moon, the return vehicle was released about 3,100 miles from Earth. After attempting what is called a skip re-entry -- skipping out of the atmosphere to slow down before finally entering -- it landed in inner Mongolia.
The booster ended up in a highly elliptical Earth orbit, NASA said. While China has claimed the booster has already burned up in our planet's atmosphere, NASA believes it's still up there and will impact the far side of the moon on March 4 at approximately 7:26 a.m. EST.
"According to China's monitoring, the Chang'e 5 (rocket) has safely entered Earth's atmosphere, and has completely burned," said Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, according to Reuters.
Why does all this matter. Reuters reports it brings back into focus the issue of space debris and who is ultimately responsible for tracking objects that are still floating out there.