A World’s First Feat: China Lands on the Far Side of the Moon

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Long March -5 rocket carrying the Chang’e-6 spacecraft taking off from its launchpad at the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Friday, May 3, 2024. (Xinhua News Agency/Guo Cheng)

At 06:09 on June 2nd, the Chang’e-6 lunar probe – named after the mythological Chinese moon goddess – began to descend as its 7500-N variable thrust engine repulsed against the Moon’s surface. During this period, a combination of rapid attitude adjustments detected obstacles through the autonomous avoidance system. Hovering 100 meters above the identified safe point, 3D lasers took precise photos of the area, confirming the landing spot’s appropriation. Finally, fixated on the less-explored region, the probe landed smoothly in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

China’s mission marked humanity’s first lunar backside sample return. Compared with the previous Chang’e-5 mission, which achieved a frontside sample return in 2020, Chang’e-6 leveraged significant breakthroughs in the designing and controlling of the lunar retrograde orbit technology.

With the support of the Queqiao-2 satellite, Chang’e-6 will complete fast-paced intelligent sampling and be set to return to Earth on June 25 in China’s northern Mongolia region.

James Head, a professor at Brown University and a collaborator with Chinese scientists in completing the mission, recognizes its significance. “The enigmatic lunar far side is so different from the lunar nearside in so many ways, that without returned samples, lunar scientists can’t fully understand the moon as an entire planetary body,” he says. Fortunately, “returned samples from Chang’e 6 will permit major strides to be made in solving these problems.”

Details and progress

The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) corroborates the complexity of the mission in its official statement following the launch. “It involves many engineering innovations, high risks, and great difficulty.”

Yet, the lander has Chang’e-6’s collection of lunar soil and surface rock samples is carried out through two methods: using manually controlled robotic arms to collect drilled specimens and performing automatic sampling to achieve diversity in experimental groups. Simultaneously, on-site investigations of soil structures on the lunar backside will accompany a further understanding of the moon’s enthralling formation and evolution history.

Last year, Chang’e-5 successfully retrieved 1.7kg of material from the Oceanus Procellarum area on the Moon’s near side. Now, Chang’e-6 has already collected 2kg (4.4lb) of material. 

Space race

Before the Chang’e-6 mission, China attained significant milestones in space exploration, including conducting the third-ever autonomous crewed space mission, deploying its space station, and landing robotic rovers on both the moon and Mars, demonstrating the nation’s high-stake ambitions.

As China currently operates its missions in “rivalry” with the International Space Station, many sources react to China’s success not as a celebration, but as an exacerbating step to the ongoing space race.

Several countries are actively enhancing their lunar missions, with increasing emphasis on acquiring resources and exploring deeper regions of space. 2023 marked India’s first spacecraft landing on the moon while Russia’s Luna 25 probe crashed into the moon’s surface in a catastrophic failure.

Japan joined the ranks of five nations that have landed a spacecraft on the moon in January, though their success was dampened by its Moon Sniper landing at an incorrect angle. In early February, IM-1, a privately owned corporation funded by NASA, touched down its spacecraft, Odysseus, close to the lunar South pole.

China has set to send astronauts to the moon by 2030, making it the second only to the US to do so. Meanwhile, the US plans to accomplish an American landing again, with NASA’s proposed plan to do so in 2026. Despite complex national disputes over space advancements, Global Times comments China’s landing as demonstrating ‘international style.’ Amongst the payload carried by Chang’e-6 are the European Space Agency’s lunar surface negative ion analyzer, French lunar radon detectors, and an Italian laser corner reflector, all of which support Chang’e-6’s challenging exploration mission through various facets. Such collaborative action sparks hope in different countries’ abilities to further humanity’s space exploration in a partnered and mutual manner.

Written by Julia Jiang

Share this:

You may also like...