'Landmark achievement': China first to obtain Moon rock samples from far side

China's Chang'e 6 probe returned to Earth with rare Moon samples that could answer key questions about how planets are formed.

China has become the first country to obtain rock and soil samples from the less-explored far side of the Moon.

China’s Chang’e 6 probe returned to Earth on Tuesday afternoon, landing in Siziwang Banner, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, after a nearly two-month-long risky mission.

Chinese scientists expect the returned samples to include 2.5 million-year-old volcanic rock and other materials that may help explain the geographic differences between the Moon’s two sides and answer key questions about how planets are formed.

Zhang Kejian, Director of the China National Space Administration said in a televised news conference after the landing: “I now declare that the Chang’e 6 Lunar Exploration Mission achieved complete success.”

A rocket, carrying the Chang’e-6 spacecraft, blasts off from its launchpad at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Wenchang on May 3 / Credit: AP

The near side of the Moon, visible from Earth, has relatively flat expanses, while the far side, facing outer space, is known for its mountains and impact craters.

The probe was launched on May 3 and journeyed for 53 days, drilling into the core and scooping rocks from the surface.

Scientists are interested in the less-explored side of the Moon because it is hoped to contain traces of ice, which could potentially be harvested for water, oxygen, and hydrogen.

Past US and Soviet missions have collected samples from the Moon’s near side, but not the far side.

China’s President Xi Jinping congratulated the team on the success of the Chang’e mission.

He said: “The success is another landmark achievement in my country’s efforts to build a powerful country in space, science and technology.

“I hope you will take advantage of the trend, carry out scientific research on lunar samples carefully, implement other major aerospace projects such as deep space exploration, strengthen international exchanges and cooperation and move forward bravely towards the goal of becoming a space power.”

The Moon programme is part of a growing rivalry with the US, which remains the leader in space exploration, along with other countries such as Japan and India.

China has established its own space station in orbit and regularly sends crews there.

In recent years, China has launched several successful missions to the Moon, including the Chang’e 5 probe, which collected samples from the Moon’s near side.

Scientists are anticipating that the probe will bring back materials containing traces of meteorite impacts from the Moon’s history. Following the probe’s successful reentry, scientists will commence studying the samples.

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