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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

China’s Chang’e-6 probe makes historic return from the Moon

China's Chang’e-6 probe has successfully lifted off from the far side of the Moon, carrying precious lunar samples back to Earth.

China’s Chang’e-6 probe has successfully lifted off from the far side of the Moon, carrying precious lunar samples back to Earth. This marks a significant milestone in lunar exploration and highlights China’s rising prominence in space exploration.

Unprecedented Lunar Feat

On Tuesday, the ascender module of the Chang’e-6 probe took off from the lunar surface, carrying samples collected from the Moon’s far side. This achievement is a first in human history and demonstrates China’s advanced capabilities in space exploration. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced that the ascender had entered a preset orbit around the Moon after its lift-off.

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The Chang’e-6 probe had landed in the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin, one of the largest known impact craters in the solar system, on Sunday. Over the next two days, it used a drill and a robotic arm to gather rock and soil samples from beneath and above the lunar surface. A Chinese national flag was unfurled for the first time on the far side of the Moon, symbolizing this historic mission.

Scientific Significance

The far side of the Moon, often called the “dark side” because it is invisible from Earth, holds significant research potential. Its craters are less affected by ancient lava flows, which makes it an ideal location for studying the Moon’s formation and the solar system’s evolution. Material from the far side may provide insights into why the near and far sides of the Moon are so different and offer clues about the Earth’s ability to sustain life.

Professor Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester emphasized the importance of this achievement, noting that only the USA and Russia have previously recovered samples from the Moon. He lauded the technical prowess required to take off from the far side of the Moon. Dr. Romain Tartèse of the University of Manchester echoed these sentiments, highlighting the excitement within the scientific community as the mission progresses.

Return Journey

The Chang’e-6 mission, which began on May 3, has been meticulously planned and executed. After collecting the samples, the ascender is set to rendezvous with the lunar orbiter and transfer the samples to a re-entry capsule. The capsule is expected to return to Earth, landing in China’s Inner Mongolia region around June 25. This phase of the mission involves two critical stages: docking with the lunar orbiter and the subsequent journey back to Earth.

Despite the challenges ahead, scientists are optimistic. Tartèse pointed out that the mission must safely return to Earth orbit and survive re-entry. So far, the mission has progressed smoothly, with the CNSA providing continuous updates on its success.

China’s Ambitious Space Goals

China’s space program has made significant strides under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, with substantial investments fueling a series of ambitious projects. These include building the Tiangong space station, landing robotic rovers on Mars and the Moon, and becoming the third country to independently put humans in orbit.

The success of Chang’e-6 reiterates China’s capability and determination in space exploration. The mission not only enhances scientific understanding but also positions China as a major player in space. Future plans include sending a crewed mission to the Moon by 2030 and establishing a lunar base, aligning with similar aspirations by the United States under its Artemis program.

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The international scientific community is hopeful for collaboration opportunities with China, as insights from the Chang’e-6 samples could significantly advance lunar and solar system research. Barstow and Tartèse both expressed interest in studying the samples, building on previous collaborations with Chinese scientists.