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China entered history and obtained the first samples from the hidden side of the moon

China entered history and obtained the first samples from the hidden side of the moon

The Chinese space race is truly amazing. Just two decades ago, the Asian giant had none of the ingredients needed to take on space superpowers like the United States or Russia, and yet, with a strong economic infusion, an amazing team of engineers and stealth work (Although it is also full of secrecy) advanced in many aspects to NASA or Roscosmos.

In recent years, China has developed a very complete program containing its own launchers, probes, ships, rovers and even space stations. Its lunar project is highlighted by the impressive Chang’e probes which, since making the first controlled landing on the moon in 2013, have successfully returned to the moon four times…the last of which will also go down in history. As the first mission to return samples from the far side of the Moon.

Today is June 25, 2024the Chang’e 6 probe has returned from its 53-day journey to the unknown side of our natural satellite. It was launched on May 3, reached lunar orbit five days later, and landed on June 2, collecting samples from the far side for the first time and returning with them to Earth. As Julius Caesar said more than two thousand years ago: I came, I saw, and I conquered.

A diagram of the Chang'e 6 mission from its launch until its return to Earth with samples from the moon today, June 25 |  Infographic by Daniel Marin, Eureka, Naucas

A diagram of the Chang’e 6 mission from its launch until its return to Earth with samples from the moon today, June 25 | Infographic by Daniel Marin, Eureka, Naucas

The return capsule containing the samples that landed by parachute in the Mongolian steppe in northern China and those responsible for the mission confirm that It carries with it about two kilograms of regolith and rocks from the hidden side of the satellite. Samples come from Aitken BasinIt is an area close to the moon’s south pole, where, according to previous geological studies, the oldest materials on the moon’s surface were found.

The collected samples are currently being transferred to a laboratory in Beijing where they will be studied in depth. The Chinese authorities stated that after these initial analyses, the rocks will be provided to researchers in other countries who request them.

China Aerospace Administration technicians inspect the sample capsule  CNSAChina Aerospace Administration technicians inspect the sample capsule  CNSA

China Aerospace Administration technicians inspect the sample capsule CNSA

But why is it important to get samples from the hidden side of our satellite? The answer to this question is very broad. For the first time we have samples from the hidden side, which is a completely different area from the one that we explored historically, for example with the Apollo program, which always landed on the visible side. In addition, the material collected could provide information about why the near and far sides are so different, and clues about the early history of the solar system.

The two sides of our satellite are completely different. Their formation and composition are still a mystery, and analysis of real specimens from the hidden side (compared to those we already have from the visible side) can give us clues to this discrepancy.

But it is also a very important milestone for the future. China is in a clear race to reach these unexplored areas, facing the NASA and SpaceX consortium. China’s next lunar mission will be Chang’e 7, which will be launched in 2026 Space infrastructure challenge It will include an orbiter, a lander, a small mobile probe, and a rover. Later, a new mission will arrive to test the technology and use of resources at the site, and the Chang’e-8 vehicle will continue around 2028… All this is a prelude to the first manned mission that China wants to put its astronauts on. On the surface before 2030.

Scientific references and more information:

Daniel MarinChang’e 6: The first launch from the far side of the Moon“Eureka, Naukas (2024)

Simone McCarthyChina’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission returns to Earth with historic samples from the far sideCNN (2024)

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