China launches probe to collect samples from far side of the moon

China on Friday launched an uncrewed spacecraft on a nearly two-month mission to retrieve rocks and soil from the far side of the moon, the first country to make such an ambitious attempt.

The Long March-5, China’s largest rocket, blasted off at 5:27 pm Beijing time (09:27 GMT) from Wenchang Space Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan with the more than 8 metric ton Chang’e-6 probe.

Chang’e-6 is tasked with landing in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon, which perpetually faces away from the Earth, after which it will retrieve and return samples.

The launch marks another milestone in China’s lunar and space exploration programme.

"It is a bit of a mystery to us how China has been able to develop such an ambitious and successful programme in such a short time," said Pierre-Yves Meslin, a French researcher working on one of the scientific objectives of the Chang’e-6 mission.

In 2018, Chang’e-4 gave China its first unmanned moon landing, also on the far side. In 2020, Chang’e-5 marked the first time humans retrieved lunar samples in 44 years, and Chang’e-6 could make China the first country to retrieve samples from the moon’s "hidden" side.

Foreign payloads

But no US organisations applied to get a payload spot, according to Ge Ping, deputy director of the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) Lunar Exploration and Space Program.

The window for the probe to collect samples on the far side is 14 hours, compared to 21 hours for the near side.

(Reuters)


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