• 1976
  • More

Chang’e-6 Lands on the Far Side of the Moon for Soil Retrieval

June 3—On June 2, China’s Chang’e-6 spacecraft landed on the Moon’s far side for a second time, and, for the first time, will soon start collecting rock samples from the oldest lunar basin to bring back to Earth.

The Chang’e-6 lander successfully touched down in the northeastern part of the South Pole-Aitken basin at 06:23 China Standard Time on June 2 (22:23 UTC, June 1; 18:23 EDT, June 1), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced. The lander will soon go through initial checks and begin using its robotic arm to drill and scoop up materials from the lunar surface, which are expected to weigh up to 2 kg.

Once returned, they will become the first samples ever retrieved from the Moon’s mysterious far side, which always faces away from the Earth.

Entering lunar orbit on May 8, four days after its May 3 launch, the 8.35-ton spacecraft—which consists of a lander, ascender, orbiter, and return capsule—had been circling the Moon since then, looking for the best spot and time to land.

On May 30, the lander and ascender separated from the orbiter and return capsule. The lander then fired its 7,500-Newton-thrust engine to slow down and began to descend from about 15 km above the lunar surface.

In this process, the cameras on the lander snapped photos of the landing area and transmitted them to computers on the lander to identify possible hazards on the surface, such as large rocks, so that the craft could maneuver to avoid them.

At about 100 meters above the lunar surface, the combined vehicle suspended its descent and hovered for a moment to conduct accurate detection of smaller obstacles and determine the final landing spot before continuing to descend at a slower, steady speed.

As the craft came to just several meters above the surface, it shut off its engine and touched down on the lunar surface, making China now the only country to have soft landed on the far side for a second time.

While the mission has been getting scant attention from the Western press, on May 3 hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens lined the beaches of Hainan to view the launch. The return material will be a major scientific boon, with researchers having a look at matter that has been continually bombarded from the surrounding cosmos, and perhaps giving us a greater clue to the development of the Earth itself.

The sampling will occur over the next two days, after which Chang’e-6 mission will begin the journey back. It should reach the Earth by the end of June.

Comments (0)
Login or Join to comment.