China’s mission to dark side of moon begins challenging journey home with precious samples

Chang’e-6 makes history as first lunar probe ever to lift off the far side

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 04 June 2024 08:32 BST
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China's moon mission

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China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission has begun its challenging journey back to Earth, making history as the first probe ever to lift off the far side of the moon.

The mission’s ascent vehicle, carrying up to 2kg of specimens from the moon’s oldest impact basin, took off from the lunar surface on Tuesday morning, starting a three-week journey back, China’s space agency said.

It departed the moon at 2338 GMT after successfully collecting samples between 2 and 3 June.

Chang’e-6 “withstood the test of high temperature on the far side of the moon”, China National Space Administration said in a statement.

“This is the first time in human history for a spacecraft to take off from the far side of the moon.”

According to Chinese state TV, Chang’e-6 unfurled a Chinese national flag on the far side of the moon before departing.

“This is the first time that China has independently and dynamically displayed its national flag on the far side of the moon, which is made out of novel composite materials and special processes,” it said.

The Global Times noted that despite the extreme heat on the far lunar side, the probe successfully completed its core mission of collecting samples by drilling and deploying a robotic arm. It conducted automated, diverse sampling at multiple locations.

In this China National Space Administration handout image released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese national flag carried by the lander of Chang’e-6 probe unfurls on the moon’s far side
In this China National Space Administration handout image released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese national flag carried by the lander of Chang’e-6 probe unfurls on the moon’s far side (AP)

According to the space agency, unlike its predecessor Chang’e-5 which collected samples from the near side of the moon, Chang’e-6 faced the added technical challenge of operating without direct communication with the ground stations.

The probe instead relied on the relay satellite Queqiao-2, which was put into orbit in April, for communications.

Now in lunar orbit, the probe will rendezvous with another spacecraft to transfer the samples to a return module, which is expected to land in China’s Inner Mongolia region around 25 June.

Scientists across the world hope the Chang’e-6 samples will provide answers to longstanding questions, such as the reasons behind the differences between the moon’s two faces and what the basin’s precise age reveals about the early solar system.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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