China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission returns to Earth with historic samples from the far side

Hong Kong

China The Chang’e-6 lunar module returned to Earth on Tuesday, successfully completing its historic mission to collect the first-ever samples from the far side of the moon in a major step forward for the country’s ambitious space program.

The reentry module successfully landed in a designated area in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region just after 2 p.m. local time, according to state broadcaster CCTV. The live broadcast broadcast by CCTV showed the unit landing by parachute to loud applause in the mission control room.

“The Chang’e-6 lunar exploration mission has been a complete success,” Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), said from the control room.

The search team located the unit minutes after it landed, according to CCTV. The live broadcast showed a worker conducting checks on the unit, which is located on grassy land next to a Chinese flag.

The successful mission marks a milestone in China’s “eternal dream.” Articulated by Chinese leader Xi Jinping – to establish the country as a dominant space power and comes as a number of countries, including the United States, are ramping up their own lunar exploration programmes.

In a congratulatory message on Tuesday, Xi praised the mission as “another historic achievement in building a strong country in space, science and technology.”

Beijing plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2030 and build a research base at the moon’s south pole – an area believed to contain water ice, with the United States also hoping to establish a base there.

The Chang’e-6 probe is expected to return to Earth with up to 2 kilograms of lunar dust and rocks from the far side of the moon, which will be analyzed by researchers in China before being opened to international scientists, according to Reuters. CNSA.

Chang’e 6 Lunar Module/Weibo

The Chang’e-6 probe was seen raising the Chinese flag with a robotic arm on the far side of the moon earlier in June.

Experts say the results of sample analysis could help scientists revisit the evolution of the Moon, Earth and the solar system, while also helping achieve China’s goal of tapping into resources on the Moon for further exploration there.

The samples were collected using a drill and a robotic arm from a site within the sprawling Antarctica-Aitken Basin, an impact crater formed about 4 billion years ago on the far side of the moon, which is never visible to Earth.

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Then an ascender lifted them from the surface of the Moon and transported them in lunar orbit to the return vehicle, which then returned to Earth after separating from its lunar lander.

The progress of Chang’e-6 – China’s most technically complex mission to date – has been followed with great interest within the country since its launch on May 3.

Earlier this month, photos of the lunar lander displaying the Chinese flag and appearing to have the character “Zhong” – short for China – circulated on Chinese social media on the moon’s surface.

The lunar module’s return on Tuesday also comes after separate debris was suspected Chinese missile It was seen landing on the ground in southwest China on Saturday, leaving a trail of bright yellow smoke and prompting villagers to flee, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency. Videos on Chinese social media and sent to CNN by a local witness.

The far side of the Moon has been a magnet for scientists ever since they first looked at it Grainy, black and white photos It was captured by the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 spacecraft in 1959 – and I realized how different it was from the side facing Earth.

There were no lunar maria, or the large dark plains of cooled lava that perforate much of the moon’s near side. Instead, the far side appeared to show an impact record, covered in craters of varying sizes and ages.

Decades later, and nearly five years since the Chang’e-4 mission made China the first and only country to complete a soft landing on the far side, scientists from China and around the world have high hopes for the information that can be gleaned. of samples.

“It’s a gold mine…a treasure chest,” said James Head, a professor of planetary earth sciences at Brown University, who along with European scientists collaborated with Chinese scientists in analyzing samples from the Chang’e-5 mission that returned samples from the near side. . “International scientists are absolutely passionate about this mission,” he said.

Head noted that much evidence of evolutionary history has been destroyed by shifting Earth’s tectonic plates and erosion that has obscured several billion years of the planet’s early years, including the period in which life emerged.

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“The Moon is really the cornerstone for understanding this, since its surface has no tectonic plates — it’s actually a frozen record of what it was like in our early solar system,” he said, adding that understanding the Moon’s composition can not only help us. Understanding the past but future exploration of the solar system.

While the stated focus of the Chang’e-6 mission is these broader scientific questions, experts say analyzing the composition and physical properties of samples could also help advance efforts to figure out how to use resources on the moon for future lunar and space exploration. .

“The (Chang’e-6) mission is focused on answering specific scientific questions, but the lunar soil collected from the mission could support the use of resources in the future,” said Yuki Qian, a planetary geologist at the University of Hong Kong.

Lunar soil could be used for 3D printing to produce bricks to build research bases on the moon, while some scientists have already been working on finding more economical and practical techniques for extracting gases such as helium-3, oxygen and hydrogen from soil. He said this could support further lunar exploration.

Once the samples are received, Chinese scientists are expected to share data and conduct joint research with international partners, before Beijing later opens the samples for access by international teams, according to statements by CNSA officials.

International teams had to wait about three years to apply for samples from the Chang’e-5 mission, but some of the early published research on those samples was from teams of Chinese and international scientists.

02:42- Source: CNN

The United States and China are making great strides in space exploration

Chang’e-6 – the sixth of eight scheduled missions in the Chang’e series – is widely viewed as an important step forward in achieving China’s goal of sending astronauts to the moon in the coming years.

“Every step in the sample return mission process is exactly what you would need to do to land humans on the moon and back,” Head said. “It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that even though this is a science mission, the command and control aspects (are) exactly what you need for human lunar exploration as well as things like Mars sample return.”

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China’s ambitions to send astronauts to the moon come as the US aims to launch a manned Artemis mission as early as 2026 – in what could be the first US attempt of its kind in more than 50 years.

NASA chief Bill Nelson appeared to point to China’s pace as a driver of American progress, telling lawmakers in April that the two countries were “actually… in a race.”

“What worries me is that they (get to the South Pole) first and then say: ‘This is our territory, stay out,’ because the South Pole of the Moon is an important part… We think there is water there, and if there is water, then there is rocket fuel,” Nelson said.

China has sought to allay concerns about its ambitions, reiterating its position that space exploration should “benefit all of humanity” and enlisting active international partners for its planned international lunar research station.

China and the United States are not alone in aspiring to the national prestige, potential scientific benefits, access to resources, and further deep space exploration that successful lunar missions can bring.

Last year, India landed its first spacecraft on the moon, while Russia’s first mission to the moon in decades ended in failure when its Luna 25 probe collided with the moon’s surface.

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

China is scheduled to launch its Chang’e-7 mission to the lunar South Pole region in 2026, while Chang’e-8 will be launched in 2028 to conduct tests aimed at utilizing lunar resources in preparation for a lunar research station. Chinese space authorities said earlier this year.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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