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China’s Chang’e-6 probe takes off with samples from the far side of the Moon for a historic first

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar probe blasted off from the far side of the Moon on Tuesday, moving closer to completing an ambitious mission that underscores the country’s rise as a space superpower.

In a symbolic moment before liftoff, China would also have become the first country to display its national flag on the far side of the Moon, which permanently faces Earth.

The probe, carrying the first lunar rocks ever collected from the far side of the Moon, took off and entered lunar orbit early Tuesday Beijing time after successful sample collection over the previous two days, according to a statement from the China National Space Administration. CNSA).

Its return journey to Earth is expected to take about three weeks, with a planned landing in China’s Inner Mongolia region around June 25.

The successful return of the samples would give China a head start in exploiting the strategic and scientific advantages of expanded lunar exploration – an increasingly competitive field that has contributed to NASA chief Bill Nelson calls for a new “space race”.

This is the second time China has collected samples from the Moon, after Chang’e-5 brought back rocks from the near side in 2020.

Earlier this year, Nelson appeared to acknowledge that China’s pace — and concerns about its intentions — were behind America’s urgency to return to the Moon, decades after its crewed Apollo missions.

A photo published Tuesday by the CNSA and very trending on the Chinese platform Weibo, in the shape of an China.”

The Chang’e-6 probe withstood “the high temperature test” and collected the samples by drilling into the moon’s surface and scooping up soil and rocks with a mechanical arm, the CNSA said.

After collecting the specimens, Chang’e-6 extended a robotic arm to raise the Chinese flag, according to an animation released by the CNSA.

The flag, made from volcanic basalt, was designed to withstand corrosion and extreme temperatures on the far side of the Moon in preparation for future lunar missions, a Chang’e-6 engineer told the channel state television station CCTV.

The rock “was crushed, melted and stretched into filaments about one-third the diameter of a human hair, then spun into thread and woven into fabric,” explained engineer Zhou Changyi.

“The lunar surface is rich in basalt,” Zhou added. “Since we are building a lunar base in the future, we will probably need to process the basalt into fibers and use it as a building material.”

The pierced surface of the moon seen in a photo published by the Chinese lunar mission.  - Chang'e 6 lunar rover/WeiboThe pierced surface of the moon seen in a photo published by the Chinese lunar mission.  - Chang'e 6 lunar rover/Weibo

The pierced surface of the moon seen in a photo published by the Chinese lunar mission. – Chang’e 6 lunar rover/Weibo

Historic mission

Chang’e-6 successfully landed Sunday morning in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the oldest lunar impact basin formed around 4 billion years ago. It was the second time a mission had successfully reached the far side of the Moon, after China first achieved the historic feat in 2019 with its Chang’e-4 probe.

If all goes as planned, the mission – which began on May 3 and is expected to last 53 days – could be a key step in China’s efforts to become a dominant space power.

The country’s plans include landing astronauts on the Moon by 2030 and building a research base at the South Pole, a region thought to contain water ice.

Samples collected by the Chang’e-6 lander could provide key clues about the origin and evolution of the Moon, Earth and solar system, experts say – while the mission itself provides important data and technical practices to advance China’s lunar ambitions.

“The enigmatic far side of the Moon is so different from the near side of the Moon in so many ways that without returned samples, lunar scientists cannot fully understand the Moon as an entire planetary body,” James said Head, professor emeritus at Brown University. collaborated with Chinese scientists leading the mission. “The samples returned from Chang’e 6 will enable major progress in resolving these issues.”

The far side of the Moon is beyond the reach of normal communications, meaning Chang’e-6 must also rely on a satellite launched into lunar orbit in March, the Queqiao-2.

China plans to launch two more Chang-e series missions as it moves closer to its 2030 goal of sending astronauts to the Moon.

Space Race

Several countries are expanding their lunar programs, with an increasing emphasis on securing access to resources and continuing deep space exploration.

Last year, India landed a spacecraft on the Moon for the first time, while Russia’s first moon landing mission in decades ended in failure when its Luna 25 probe crashed. is crushed on the surface of the Moon.

In January, Japan became the fifth country to land a spacecraft on the Moon, although its Moon Sniper lander faced power problems due to an incorrect landing angle. The following month, IM-1, a NASA-funded mission designed by Texas-based private company Intuitive Machines, landed near the lunar south pole.

The landing – the first by an American-made spacecraft in more than five decades – is one of several planned commercial missions aimed at exploring the lunar surface before NASA attempts to send American astronauts back there as early as 2026 and build your scientific base camp there.

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