Chinese space probe returns with rare moon rocks

China’s lunar probe has returned to Earth with the first samples of the unexplored far side of the Moon.

Chang’e-6 landed in the Inner Mongolia desert on Tuesday, after a nearly two-month mission fraught with risks.

Scientists are eagerly awaiting Chang’e-6, as the samples could answer key questions about how planets form.

China is the only country to have landed on the far side of the Moon, having done so before in 2019.

The opposite side, which is far from Earth, is technically difficult to reach due to its distance and difficult terrain of giant craters and few flat surfaces.

Scientists are interested in this less explored side, as it is expected that it may contain traces of ice, which can be harvested for water, oxygen and hydrogen.

The Chang’e-6 mission is a source of pride for a nation that has stepped up its missions to the moon, attracting the attention of its rival, the United States.

State media showed officials flourishing the Chinese flag just after the Chang’e-6 capsule landed in the Inner Mongolia desert.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called to congratulate those in the command center of the Chang’e-6 mission.

Xi said he hopes they can continue exploring deep space and “reach new heights in unraveling the mysteries of the universe… to benefit humanity and advance the nation.”

Chang’e-6 lifted off from a space center in early May and successfully landed in a crater near the Moon’s south pole a few weeks later. Their mission lasted 53 days.

The probe will be sent to Beijing and samples will be collected there, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

This is China’s sixth mission to the Moon and the second to the far side. The probe is named after the lunar goddess Chang’e in Chinese mythology.

The probe used a drill and a robotic arm to scoop up dirt and rocks, took some photos of the surface, and planted a Chinese flag.

Beijing has invested enormous resources in its space program over the past decade in an effort to catch up with both the United States and Russia.

It aims to send a crewed mission to the Moon by 2030 and plans to eventually build a base at the lunar south pole.

The United States also plans to send astronauts to the Moon again by 2026 with its Artemis 3 mission.

Analysts believe the next space race will not just be about landing people on the moon, but about who can claim and control lunar resources.

Additional reporting by Kelly Ng

Leave a Comment