"Historic Moment": China Lands Spacecraft On Far Side Of Moon To Collect Samples

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by Tyler Durden
Monday, Jun 03, 2024 - 08:40 PM

In space news this weekend, Boeing's crewed Starliner spacecraft launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station was scrubbed again, and China's Chang'e-6 lander successfully touched down on the far side of the moon.  

Launched on May 3 from Wenchang Space Launch Center on the island of Hainan, in China, the lander has been orbiting the moon for days and finally landed at the South Pole-Aitken Basin at 06:23 Beijing time on Sunday morning. 

The lander is expected to deploy a mechanical arm with a drill bit and then drill down into the lunar surface, extracting a 4.4-pound core sample. The sample will then be taken to another module orbiting the moon and returned to Earth by the end of June.

Lunar missions to the moon's far side are challenging because it doesn't face the Earth, requiring a relay satellite to maintain communications. The rugged terrain required the spacecraft to use light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and optical cameras for landing.

Chang'e-6 is China's fourth lunar landing out of four attempts. This is also the second successful landing (Chang'e-4 in 2019) on the moon's far side. In 2024, this is the third lunar landing, following Japan's SLIM in January and Intuitive Machines' IM-1 Odysseus lander in February.

"I have been analyzing the scientific data of the Chang'e-4 mission that landed on the far side of the moon, and I am constantly excited to have new findings from the ongoing rover data. Therefore, I am particularly excited about the Chang'e-6 mission," Xu Yi, an assistant professor at the Macau University of Science and Technology, told SpaceNews last week.

Yi continued, "The reasons for the asymmetry in the scale of volcanic activity between the lunar nearside and farside are still subject to different hypotheses. Chang'e-6 will probably collect lunar samples from various sources, including products of local volcanic activity. Dating and compositional analysis of these samples will provide more ground truth information about volcanic activity on the far side."

Chinese state media outlets called the landing a "historic moment." 

Looking ahead, Elon Musk's SpaceX is now targeting June 6 for the fourth test flight of the mega-rocket called Starship. 

The space race is heating up.