China’s Chang’e-6 takes off from the far side of the Moon with rock samples | Space news

The successful exit of the Moon probe means that China is closer to becoming the first country to return samples from the far side of the Moon.

A Chinese spacecraft carrying rock and soil samples from the far side of the Moon took off from the lunar surface to begin its return journey to Earth, state media reported.

Tuesday’s achievement is a world first and the latest leap for Beijing’s decades-old space program, which aims to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2030.

The Xinhua news agency, citing the China National Space Administration (CNSA), said the ascending Chang’e-6 probe lifted off at 7:38 local time on Tuesday (23:38 GMT) and entered a pre-established orbit around the moon.

He described the move as “an unprecedented feat in the history of human lunar exploration.”

The Chang’e-6 probe was launched last month and its lander landed on the far side of the Moon on Sunday. It used a drill and a robotic arm to excavate soil on and below the Moon’s surface, according to Xinhua.

After successfully collecting its samples, Chang’e-6 displayed China’s national flag for the first time on the far side of the Moon, he said.

The agency cited the CNSA as saying that the spacecraft stored the samples it had collected in a container inside the probe’s ascender as planned.

The container will be transferred to a reentry capsule that will return to Earth in the deserts of China’s Inner Mongolia region around June 25.

Missions to the far side of the Moon are more difficult because it is not facing Earth, requiring a relay satellite to maintain communications. The terrain is also more rugged, with fewer flat areas to land on.

Xinhua said the probe’s landing site was the South Pole’s Aitken Basin, an impact crater created more than 4 billion years ago, which is 13 kilometers (8 miles) deep and has a diameter of 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles).

It is the oldest and largest of these craters on the Moon, so it may provide the earliest information about it, Xinhua said, adding that the huge impact may have ejected materials from deep below the surface.

The mission is the sixth in the Chang’e Moon exploration program, named after a Chinese lunar goddess. It is the second designed to bring back samples, after Chang’e 5, which did so from the near side in 2020.

Scientists around the world are following the return of lunar samples and hope that the soil collected by Chang’e-6 can help answer questions about the origins of the solar system.

China’s lunar program is part of a growing rivalry with the United States (still a leader in space exploration) and others, including Japan and India.

China has launched its own space station, Tiangong, into orbit and sends crews there regularly.

The emerging world power aims to put a person on the Moon by 2030, which would make it the second nation after the United States to do so.

The United States plans to return astronauts to the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years, although its space agency, NASA, pushed back the target date to 2026 earlier this year.

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