China lands probe on the far side of the Moon

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China has landed a spacecraft to collect samples from the far side of the Moon for the first time and investigate whether it could become a site for a lunar base or deeper space exploration.

The Chang’e-6 lander landed in the Apollo Basin to collect rock and soil samples on Sunday morning local time, according to the China National Space Administration. State news agency Xinhua hailed the landing as the “first such effort in the history of human lunar exploration.”

Chang’e-6 was launched on a rocket from the southern Chinese island of Hainan on May 3, but its controllers waited until early June to find suitable conditions for a landing. Missions to the far side of the Moon are complicated by the fact that direct communication is not possible, so other satellites are needed to help controllers maintain contact with a probe.

Chang’e-6 is part of Beijing’s increasingly ambitious lunar strategy, which includes the goal of having a manned mission to the Moon by 2030 as a precursor to establishing a lunar base.

China and the United States are competing to establish the guiding framework for lunar exploration. The Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967, does not establish detailed rules for activity on the Moon.

The Chang’e-6 mission is a test of whether China is on track to achieve its lunar goals. “Whoever gets there first will not only have an advantage in the science of studying the Moon, but they will also have an advantage in setting a precedent for how resources can be extracted and used in space,” said Todd Harrison, principal investigator of American Enterprise. Institute, a group of experts.

Both countries are targeting the far side of the Moon as it contains resources including ice deposits, as well as areas with enough sunlight that could provide electricity to sustain colonies or launch rockets into deeper space.

Bill Nelson, head of the US space agency NASA, warned that China could begin to claim territory on the Moon under the pretext of conducting scientific research, an accusation rejected by Beijing.

China successfully completed the Chang’e-5 mission in 2020, the first time a country collected lunar samples since the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War.

“Chang’e-5 was a very complicated mission,” said Blaine Curcio, a Chinese space expert at Orbital Gateway Consulting. “It was the first mission since the 1970s to return lunar samples. “That whole process is much more complex than simply landing on the Moon.”

In August 2023, India successfully landed a rover on the far side of the Moon, the first mission to land near the unexplored south pole, but it did not collect any samples.

Chang’e-6 is equipped with sensors to identify obstacles and map terrain, a drill and a robotic arm to collect samples. He will spend the next two days collecting samples.

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