China send rocket to reach far side of Moon

China has embarked on an unprecedented mission to collect samples from the far side of the Moon, marking a significant milestone in lunar exploration. The Chang’e-6 probe, an uncrewed spacecraft, was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center at approximately 17:27 local time (10:27 BST).

Over the course of its 53-day mission, it aims to retrieve approximately two kilograms of lunar samples and return them to Earth for detailed analysis. The mission’s successful launch is seen as a pioneering step, as it involves a relaunch from the Moon’s far side, often mischaracterized as the “dark side” because it remains unseen from Earth, despite receiving sunlight.

The lunar far side is geologically distinct, possessing a thicker, older crust heavily pockmarked with craters and less obscured by ancient lava flows compared to the near side. These features make it a prime area for collecting untouched geological samples that could offer new insights into the Moon’s formation and history. Ge Ping, the vice director of China’s Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center, highlighted the novelty of the mission, stating, “Chang’e-6 will collect samples from the far side of the Moon for the first time.”

Named after a beloved figure in Chinese mythology, the Moon goddess Chang’e, the probe’s mission includes a soft landing in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, one of the largest and deepest impact craters on the Moon, measuring 2,500 km (1,553 miles) in width and up to 8 km (5 miles) in depth. Here, the spacecraft is set to conduct in-depth studies and collect lunar soil and rocks using sophisticated tools like a drill and a mechanical arm, as outlined by the China National Space Administration.

To facilitate communication with Earth, Chang’e-6 will utilize a relay satellite, Queqiao 2. This launch is the first in a series of three planned uncrewed lunar missions by China this decade, underscoring its ambitious lunar exploration agenda. Following missions include Chang’e-7, which will investigate the presence of water at the lunar south pole, and Chang’e-8, which will explore the technical possibilities for constructing the proposed International Lunar Research Station.

Building on the success of its predecessor, Chang’e-5, which in December 2020 returned with the youngest lunar lavas ever collected, Chang’e-6 forms part of China’s broader strategy in space competition, particularly with the United States. Notably, China was the first to land a rover on the far side of the Moon five years ago. Looking forward, by 2030, China aims to send its first astronauts to the Moon and initiate missions to collect samples from Mars and Jupiter, marking significant progress in its space exploration capabilities.

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