June 21, 2024

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China: The far side of the Chang’e-6 lunar probe begins its return journey

China: The far side of the Chang’e-6 lunar probe begins its return journey
Comment on the photo, The Chinese rover displayed the country’s flag after completing its sampling mission – the first time a country has flown a flag on the far side of the moon.

  • author, Francis Mao
  • Role, BBC News

China announced that its lunar probe successfully launched from the far side of the moon to begin its journey to Earth, carrying the first samples ever collected from the region.

State media say the Chang’e-6 assembly module lifted off around 07:38 on Tuesday (23:38 GMT on Monday) to begin its return journey.

On Sunday, the robot landed in a giant hole near the south pole of the moon, in an achievement that is the first of its kind in the world and is celebrated by the international scientific community.

China is the only country to have landed on the far side of the moon, and it also did so before in 2019.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) described the mission’s landing and liftoff as an “unprecedented achievement in human exploration of the moon.”

The far or “dark” side of the Moon – which faces away from Earth – represents a technical challenge to reach due to its distance and difficult terrain of giant, deep craters and few flat surfaces.

Space officials had to use a satellite to direct and maintain communications with the Chang’e-6 spacecraft.

State media published videos from the Chinese space agency showing the Chang’e 6 rover sticking out its small arm and waving the Chinese flag after collecting the precious samples.

This is China’s sixth mission to the moon, which is named after the moon goddess Chang’e in Chinese mythology.

Successful mission so far

The China National Space Administration announced the sampling results on Tuesday, saying the vehicle “withstood the high temperature test on the far side of the moon” and has now begun its return.

Its ascent module successfully “launched” on Tuesday with samples in a metal vacuum container.

After liftoff, the module then entered a “predetermined orbit around the Moon.” The container will be transferred to a re-entry capsule scheduled to return to Earth, landing in the Inner Mongolian desert around June 25.

Chang’e-6 spent two days collecting rocks and soil, using a mechanical arm and a drill to collect about 2 kg (4.4 lb) of material.

It is based in the South Pole-Itkin Basin, a giant crater located on the far side of the Moon, one of the largest known craters in the solar system.

Steering the rover there was risky because it is very difficult to communicate with the spacecraft once it reaches the far side of the Moon.

Chinese space authorities described the operation as involving “many engineering innovations, high risks and great difficulty.”

Video explanation, The video shows the Chinese probe landing on the far side of the moon

Scientists are excited about samples that are likely some of the oldest moon rocks.

Those in China will be given the first opportunity to analyze the rocks, and researchers around the world will later be able to apply for this opportunity as well.

Professor John Burnett Fisher, a specialist in lunar geology at the University of Manchester, told the BBC last week: “Everyone is very excited that we may be getting a look at these rocks that no one has ever seen before.”

The opportunity to analyze rocks from a completely different region of the moon could answer fundamental questions about how planets formed, he said.

The Moon’s South Pole is the next frontier in lunar missions, with countries keen to understand the region because there is a good chance it has ice.

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

This is China’s second mission to collect samples from the moon, but it is the first that aims to extract them from the far side.

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

The previous year, China became the first country to reach the far side of the moon with the landing of its Chang’e-4 plane.

China is planning three more unmanned missions this decade as it searches for water on the moon and investigates establishing a permanent base there. The country already has its own space station known as Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace.

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

The United States also aims to return astronauts to the moon, with NASA aiming to launch the Artemis-3 mission in 2026.