China’s Chang’e-6 probe of the far side of the Moon begins its journey back

image title, The Chinese space agency said the robotic spacecraft waved the Chinese flag after it finished collecting samples

  • Author, Frances Mao
  • The role, BBC news

China says its lunar probe has successfully lifted off from the far side of the moon to begin its journey back to Earth carrying the first samples collected from the region.

State media said the Chang’e-6 spacecraft module, named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology, successfully lifted off at around 07:38 on Tuesday (23:38 GMT Monday) to begin its return journey.

The spacecraft landed near the Moon’s south pole on Sunday, a world-first feat celebrated by the international scientific community.

China is the only country to land on the far side of the moon, and it did so before 2019.

China’s National Space Administration called the mission «an unprecedented feat in human lunar exploration.»

That side of the Moon – which always faces away from Earth – is technically difficult to reach due to the rugged terrain and deep craters.

The Chinese mission aims to be the first to bring back rock and soil samples from the region, which scientists say could be very different from rock formations on the near side of the moon.

State media released videos from the Chinese space agency showing the unmanned robotic craft sticking out a small arm and waving a Chinese flag after collecting the precious samples.

On Tuesday, Chinese state media announced the module’s successful takeoff, citing the CNSA that the probe’s ascent module had «detached from the lunar surface.»

«The mission has withstood a high-temperature test on the far side of the moon,» the space agency said.

After liftoff, the module then entered a «preset lunar orbit.»

The entire probe should return in about three weeks to the landing site in Inner Mongolia.

Scientists in China will get the first opportunity to analyze the rocks, and later researchers around the world will be able to apply for the opportunity.

The probe landed on Sunday in a huge crater known as the South Pole–Aitken Basin. The crater is one of the largest known in the solar system.

The landing was full of risks because it is very difficult to communicate with spacecraft once they reach the far side of the moon.

China’s space authorities described the operation as one involving «many engineering innovations, high risks and great difficulties».

video title, The video shows the Chinese landing on the far side of the moon

The mission aimed to collect about 2 kg (4.4 lb) of material using a drill and a mechanical arm, according to CNSA.

Experts have previously told the BBC that there is potential for new rocks.

«Everyone is very excited that we could see these rocks that no one has ever seen before,» said Professor John Pernet-Fisher, who specializes in lunar geology at the University of Manchester.

He previously analyzed lunar rocks brought back by the US Apollo mission and previous Chinese missions.

But he says the opportunity to analyze rocks from a completely different area of ​​the moon could answer fundamental questions about how planets form.

The moon’s south pole is the next frontier in lunar missions – countries want to understand the region because there is a high probability of ice.

Access to water would greatly increase the chances of successfully establishing a human base on the moon for scientific research.

This is the second time that China has launched a mission to collect samples from the moon.

In 2020, Chang’e-5 brought back 1.7 kg of material from a region called Oceanus Procellarum on the near side of the Moon.

In 2019, China became the first country to reach the far side by landing its Chang’e-4.

China plans three more unmanned missions this decade as it searches for water on the moon and explores setting up a permanent base there.

Beijing’s broader strategy aims to see a Chinese astronaut walking on the moon around 2030.

The US also intends to return astronauts to the moon, and NASA plans to launch its Artemis-3 mission in 2026.

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