China Launches Ambitious Moon Mission

Chang'e-6 is expected to return with samples from moon's far side after 53 days
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 3, 2024 5:42 AM CDT

China launched a lunar probe on Friday to land on the far side of the moon and return with samples that could provide insights into differences between the less-explored region and the better-known near side. The rocket carrying the Chang'e-6 lunar probe—named after the Chinese mythical moon goddess—lifted off at 5:27am Eastern from the Wenchang launch center on the island province of Hainan, the AP reports. Huge numbers of people crowded Hainan's beaches to view the launch, which comes in the middle of China's five-day May Day holiday.

After orbiting the moon to reduce speed, the lander will separate from the spacecraft and begin scooping up samples almost as soon as it sets down. It will then reconnect with the returner for the trip back to Earth. The entire mission is set to last 53 days. Free from exposure to Earth and other interference, the moon's somewhat mysterious far side is ideal for radio astronomy and other scientific work. Because the far side never faces Earth, a relay satellite is needed to maintain communications.

The launch is the latest advance in China's increasingly sophisticated space exploration program. In 2020, China returned samples from the moon's near side, the first time anyone has done so since the US Apollo program ended in the 1970s. Earlier this week, three Chinese astronauts returned home from a six-month mission on the country's orbiting space station after the arrival of its replacement crew. China's space program aims to put astronauts on the moon by 2030, as well as bring back samples from Mars around the same year and launch three lunar probe missions over the next four years. The next is scheduled for 2027. (More China space program stories.)

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