Chinese spacecraft lands on Moon’s far side for sample collection

A Chinese spacecraft successfully landed on the far side of the moon Sunday, aiming to collect soil and rock samples to better understand the region’s differences from the more familiar near side. The China National Space Administration reported that the landing module touched down at 6:23 a.m. Beijing time in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, a massive crater.

This mission, part of the Chang’e moon exploration program named after a Chinese moon goddess, is the sixth of its kind and the second focused on sample return, following the Chang’e 5 mission in 2020.

China’s ambitious lunar program reflects its growing competition with the U.S., which remains the dominant force in space exploration, and other countries like Japan and India. China has already established its own space station and regularly sends crewed missions there. It aims to land a person on the moon by 2030, potentially becoming the second nation to achieve this feat after the U.S. NASA, meanwhile, plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2026, a delay from its initial timeline.

The current Chinese mission involves using a mechanical arm and a drill to collect up to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of surface and underground material over approximately two days. These samples will be transferred from an ascender on the lander to an orbiting module, which will then send them back to Earth. The samples are expected to land in China’s Inner Mongolia region around June 25.

Exploring the moon’s far side presents unique challenges due to its rugged terrain and lack of direct communication with Earth, necessitating a relay satellite for communication.

Photo credit: Xinhua News