China launches uncrewed probe to far side of the moon

China launches uncrewed probe to far side of the moon
China launches uncrewed probe to far side of the moon

The two-month mission aims to collect samples from the far side of the moon. The mission is part of a Chinese program aiming to send a crew to the moon by 2030.

China launched a lunar mission on Friday to collect samples from the far side of the moon, the first attempt of its kind.

A rocket carrying the Chang’e-6 lunar probe took off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan province on Friday around 5:30 p.m. (0930 GMT), Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

After orbiting the moon to reduce speed, the lander will separate from the returner. The uncrewed mission is meant to last for around two months.

What do we know about the Chang’e-6 launch?

The launch was attended by scientists, diplomats and state agency officials from several countries with payloads aboard Chang’e-6. They included France, Italy, Pakistan and the European Space Agency — no officials from US organizations were on hand.

US law bans China from collaborating with the US space agency, NASA, without explicit Congressional approval. Washington fears China’s space program disguises a “military program,” according to a warning from NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

The Chinese probe will take around four days to reach the moon’s orbit once it separates from the rocket. The probe is due to land in early June, when it should spend two days digging up 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples before returning to earth.

The probe has a 14-hour window to collect samples on the far side of the moon, which is invisible from Earth and has received relatively little scientific attention.

“The far side of the moon has a mystique perhaps because we literally can’t see it, we have never seen it apart from with robotic probes or the very few number of humans that have been around the other side,” said Neil Melville-Kenney, a technical officer at ESA working with Chinese researchers on one of the Chang’e-6 payloads.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua hailed the probe as “the first endeavor of its kind in the history of human lunar exploration.”

China’s space ambitions

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tenure has witnessed many leaps in China’s space project, with huge resources poured into the program over the last decade.

Notable achievements include building its own space station, Tiangong or “heavenly palace,” after being excluded from the International Space Station, largely over US fears amid growing competition between the two countries. Tiangong was launched in 2021.

Beijing has also landed robotic rovers on Mars and the moon. It aims to send a crewed mission to the moon by 2030, as well as bring back samples from Mars around the same year.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming the third country after the former Soviet Union and the US to put a person into space using its own resources.

Source: Dw

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