China Launches Historic Chang'e-6 Mission to Retrieve Lunar Samples from Moon's Far Side

China launched its Chang'e-6 robotic mission to retrieve samples from the Moon's far side, a 53-day mission to collect 2kg of rocks from an impact crater. The spacecraft carries four international payloads and aims to understand the Moon's far side geology and composition.

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Shivani Chauhan
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China Launches Historic Chang'e-6 Mission to Retrieve Lunar Samples from Moon's Far Side

China Launches Historic Chang'e-6 Mission to Retrieve Lunar Samples from Moon's Far Side

China launched its Chang'e-6 robotic mission on Friday to retrieve samples from the Moon's far side, a significant milestone in the country's ambitious plans to put boots on the lunar surface by 2030. The Chang'e-6 spacecraft took off aboard a Long March 5 rocket from China's Wenchang Satellite Launch Center at 9:17am GMT on a 53-day mission to collect approximately 2kg of rocks from an impact crater on the Moon's far side and transport them back to Earth.

Why this matters: The success of this mission could reshape our understanding of the Moon and its potential for supporting human presence in the coming decades. The success of this mission could reshape our understanding of the Moon and its potential for supporting human presence in the coming decades. It also marks a major breakthrough in the newspace race, with implications for international cooperation and competition in space exploration.

The mission involves complex stages, including the design and control technology of the Moon's retrograde orbit, intelligent sampling, takeoff and ascent technologies, and automatic sample return on the far side of the Moon. Space experts are applauding the level of complexity undertaken by the mission, with samples retrieved from the lunar far side expected to be "very interesting scientifically".

The Chang'e-6 mission marks the first attempt by any country to retrieve rocks and soil from the Moon's far side, a region that is less studied and more challenging to explore because the lack of direct line of sight with Earth hinders it. "Collecting and returning samples from the far side of the moon is anunprecedented feat,"said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar exploration programme.

The spacecraft carries four payloads developed through international cooperation, including a French radon gas detector, a Swedish ion analyzer, an Italian laser corner reflector, and a small satellite from Pakistan. The mission aims to understand what makes the Moon's far side geologically different from the near side and reveal insights about the history of the Moon.

Wu Weiren explained, "We know very little about the moon's far side. If the Chang'e-6 mission can achieve its goal, it will provide scientists with the first direct evidence to understand the environment and material composition of the far side of the moon, which is of great significance."

The Moon's south pole, where the Chang'e-6 mission will touch down, has become an increasingly fascinating destination for space-exploring countries, with potential resources such as water ice that could be used to produce hydrogen for fuel and oxygen to breathe. Both NASA and China hope to send humans to the lunar south pole by the end of this decade, marking a new space race.

China has made significant progress in its lunar exploration program in recent years, including landing a probe on the far side of the moon in 2019 and returning to the moon's near side in 2020. The Chang'e-6 mission is part of a broader effort to establish a moon base, with China planning to send two robotic missions to the moon's south pole to scout out locations.

The mission has implications for international cooperation in space exploration, with the China National Space Administration inviting scientists from the U.S., Europe, and Asia to apply to borrow the lunar samples for their own research. However, the head of the U.S. Space Command, General Stephen Whiting, has expressed concerns about Beijing's space development, stating that it is moving at "breathtaking speed" and showing "clear intent" to project its power in orbit.

As China's space exploration ambitions continue to grow, the Chang'e-6 mission represents a pivotal step forward in unlocking the secrets of the Moon's far side and paving the way for future human exploration. The success of this historic mission could reshape our understanding of the Moon and its potential for supporting human presence in the coming decades.

Key Takeaways

  • China launched Chang'e-6 mission to retrieve Moon's far side samples.
  • Mission aims to collect 2kg of rocks from an impact crater in 53 days.
  • Success could reshape understanding of Moon and its potential for human presence.
  • Mission marks a breakthrough in the new space race with international implications.
  • China plans to establish a moon base and send humans to the lunar south pole by 2030.