China says its Chang’e-6 mission successfully landed on the far side of the moon

China says its unmanned spacecraft has successfully landed on the far side of the moon, an unexplored place that almost no one tries to go to.

The China National Space Administration said Chang’e 6 landed in the Antarctic-Itkin Basin at 06:23 Beijing time on Sunday morning (22:23 GMT on Saturday).

The mission, launched on May 3, aims to collect precious rocks and soil from this region for the first time in history.

The probe could extract some of the oldest moon rocks from a huge crater in Antarctica.

Landing was risky, because it is very difficult to communicate with spacecraft once they reach the far side of the moon. China is the only country to have achieved this feat before, landing its Chang’e-4 aircraft in 2019.

After launching from the Wenchang Space Launch Center, the Chang’e 6 spacecraft was orbiting the moon awaiting landing.

The mission’s landing element then separated from the orbiter to land on the side of the Moon that permanently faces Earth.

During landing, an autonomous visual obstacle avoidance system was used to automatically detect obstacles, with a visible light camera selecting a relatively safe landing area based on the brightness and darkness of the moon’s surface, state-run Xinhua news agency reported. news agency.

The lander flew about 100 meters (328 feet) above the safe landing zone and used a 3D laser scanner before a slow vertical descent.

The operation was supported by the Queqiao-2 satellite, CNSA said.

Chinese state media described the successful landing as a “historic moment.”

“Applause broke out at the Beijing Space Flight Control Center” when the Chang’e lander touched down on the moon’s surface early Sunday morning, the state broadcaster said.

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The lander is supposed to spend up to three days collecting material from the surface in a process that the China National Space Administration said would involve “many engineering innovations, high risks and great difficulty.”

“Everyone is very excited that we might get a look at these rocks that no one has ever seen before,” explains Professor John Burnett Fisher, a specialist in lunar geology at the University of Manchester.

He has analyzed other lunar rocks brought back by the US Apollo mission and previous Chinese missions.

But he says the opportunity to analyze rocks from a completely different region of the moon could answer fundamental questions about how planets formed.

Most of the rocks collected so far are volcanic rocks, similar to what we might find in Iceland or Hawaii.

But the material on the far side will have a different chemistry.

“This will help us answer those really big questions, like how do planets form, why do crusts form, and what is the origin of water in the solar system?” says the professor.

The mission aims to collect about 2 kg (4.4 lb) of material using a drill and a mechanical arm, according to the CNSA.

The Antarctica-Aitken Basin, an impact crater, is one of the largest known craters in the solar system.

From there, the probe can collect material that comes from deep within the lunar mantle – the inner core of the Moon – says Professor Bernt Fischer.

The Moon’s South Pole is the next frontier in lunar missions, with countries keen to understand the region because there is a good chance it has ice.

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