China’s Chang’e 6 mission is set to make history in space exploration by being the first mission to collect samples from the far side of the moon. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has announced that the Chang’e 6 spacecraft is scheduled to land on the lunar surface in the first half of this year, marking a significant milestone in lunar research.
Preparations for the mission are well underway, with components of the Chang’e 6 probe recently transported to the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province. The probe consists of an orbiter, a lander, an ascender, and a reentry module, mirroring the design of its predecessor, Chang’e 5. The CNSA has stated that the probe will undergo assembly and prelaunch checks at the center.
This mission is not simply a repeat of past endeavors but a venture into unexplored territory. Landing a spacecraft on the lunar surface is a challenging task, and sending a probe to the far side and bringing samples back is even more challenging, as no one has ever attempted it before. However, with the success of the Chang’e 5 mission, which collected samples from the near side of the moon, China has the necessary expertise to undertake this new mission.
The operational process of Chang’e 6 will follow the same steps as Chang’e 5. The lander-ascender combination will perform a soft landing on the lunar surface and use a drill and mechanical arm to gather lunar rocks and soil. Once the collection is complete, the ascender will rendezvous and dock with the reentry module in lunar orbit to transfer the samples for their journey back to Earth.
The significance of this mission goes beyond its technical achievements. The far side of the moon, often referred to as the “dark side,” remains largely unexplored. Chang’e 6 will target the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the largest and deepest known crater in the solar system. This site holds immense scientific interest as it may reveal materials from the moon’s interior, providing new insights into its history and composition.
Pang Zhihao, an expert from the China Academy of Space Technology, highlights the scientific potential of the mission. The South Pole-Aitken Basin has a distinct mineralogy that may reflect materials from the inside of the moon brought up by the impact that created the basin. Additionally, the far side of the moon is considerably more mountainous than the near side, and researchers are still investigating the reasons behind this difference.
Historically, only the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China have successfully brought lunar samples back to Earth. However, none of these missions have targeted the moon’s far side, making Chang’e 6’s endeavor unprecedented.
In a demonstration of China’s commitment to international collaboration in space exploration, the CNSA has included scientific instruments from France, Italy, the European Space Agency, and Pakistan in the Chang’e 6 mission. This gesture of cooperation is particularly significant as lunar research garners increasing interest and participation worldwide. The launch of Chang’e 6 will showcase China’s growing capabilities in space exploration technologies.
Overall, the Chang’e 6 mission represents a groundbreaking achievement in lunar exploration and holds great scientific potential for uncovering new knowledge about the moon’s far side.