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China’s Chang’e-6 probe brings back first-ever samples from Moon’s far side

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Beijing, Jun 25 (PTI) China’s Chang’e-6 lunar probe module returned to Earth on Tuesday, completing its historic mission to collect the first-ever samples from the Moon’s unexplored far side, in a major step forward for the country’s ambitious space programme.

The return capsule landed precisely in the designated area in Siziwang Banner, north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at 2:07 pm (Beijing Time), operating normally, and “the mission is a complete success,” China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping extended congratulations on the complete success of the Chang’e-6 mission, said state-run Xinhua news agency.

China’s probe was the first to reach and collect samples from the far side of the moon.

The development came after India in August 2023 became the first country to land near the little-explored lunar South Pole region when its Chandrayaan-3’s lander, carrying the Pragyaan rover, successfully landed there.

China is the only country to have landed on the far side of the Moon, having done so before in 2019. The far side – which faces away from Earth – is technically challenging to reach due to its distance, giant craters and few flat surfaces.

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The reentry module will be airlifted to Beijing for opening, and the lunar samples will be transferred to a team of scientists for subsequent storage, analysis and study, said the CNSA.

The Chang’e-6 probe is expected to have returned to Earth with up to 2 kilogrammes of moon dust and rocks from the lunar far side, which will be analysed by Chinese researchers before being opened for access by international scientists, according to the CNSA.

The Chang’e lunar exploration probe is named after the Chinese mythical moon goddess.

Consisting of an orbiter, a returner, a lander and an ascender, Chang’e-6 was launched on May 3 this year. Supported by the Queqiao-2 relay satellite, placed earlier, the lander-ascender combination landed at the designated landing area in the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin on the far side of the moon on June 2 and carried out sampling work.

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On June 4, the ascender took off from the moon with samples and entered the lunar orbit while on June 6, it completed rendezvous and docking with the orbiter-returner combination and transferred samples to the returner.

The orbiter-returner combination spent 13 days in lunar orbit, awaiting the right opportunity to return to Earth.

“The Chang’e-6 mission represents a significant milestone in the history of human lunar exploration, and it will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of lunar evolution,” said Yang Wei, a researcher at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

“New samples will inevitably lead to new discoveries. Fascination with the moon is rooted in Chinese culture down the ages, as evidenced by the mythological narrative of Chang’e, a lady who journeyed to and resided on the moon. Now, Chinese scientists are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to contribute to lunar science,” Yang told Xinhua.

The Chang’e-6 lunar probe carried four international payloads that were developed jointly by Chinese and foreign scientists. It is conceivable that the openness of Chinese lunar exploration activities will be mirrored in the study of Chang’e-6 lunar samples, Yang said.

Lunar samples brought by the earlier Chang’e-5 mission have already drawn applications for access from international scholars, with the process well underway.

The Chang’e 5 brought samples from the Moon’s near side. Chinese said the analysis of the samples found they contained water in tiny beads embedded in lunar dirt.

China also plans to have a lunar station on the moon in future. A major space power, China in the past successfully launched unmanned missions to the moon which included landing a rover. China has also sent a rover to Mars and built a space station which is currently in operation.

Earlier, China announced plans for a manned lunar landing by 2030. PTI KJV NPK AKJ

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