China’s lunar probe Chang’e-6 returns from far side of the moon

China remains the only country to land a probe on the side of the moon that is always facing away from Earth.

A large screen shows news footage of China's Chang'e-6 lunar probe collecting a sample from the far side of the moon, in Beijing, China, on June 4, 2024 [Tingshu Wang/Reuters]

A Chinese space probe has returned to Earth carrying samples from the far side of the moon.

The Chang’e-6 lunar probe landed in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia on Tuesday. The successful end of the nearly two-month-long mission is a boost for China, which is the first country to bring samples back from the hemisphere of the moon that always faces away from Earth.

A livestream carried by state broadcaster CCTV showed the module touching down under a parachute.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) described the mission as “a complete success” and said the probe is functioning normally.

Earlier this month, China landed an uncrewed spacecraft in the South Pole-Aitken basin, a giant crater on the far side of the moon, where travel and communications are challenging.

China became the only country to land on the far side in 2019. The current mission was the first to collect material.

The spacecraft used a robotic arm and drill to collect 2kg (4.4lb) of samples over several days. The probe also took pictures of the surface and planted a Chinese flag.

After setting off from the lunar surface using its own launcher, the spacecraft was guided by a relay satellite on its way back, touching down in China at 2:06pm Beijing time (06:06 GMT), loaded with lunar soil and rocks.

The samples are expected to provide scientists from China and around the world with new insights into the formation of the solar system and differences between the far side of the moon and its more familiar Earth-facing side.

The successful mission, which follows the Chang’e-5 mission that brought back samples from the near side of the moon in 2020, is another boost for China’s ambitions to expand its space credentials.

The emerging power has poured vast resources into its space exploration programme in an effort to catch up with the United States and Russia. Beijing wants to send astronauts to the moon by about 2030.

Washington, which relies heavily on private sector rockets, including those by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, plans to put astronauts on the moon for the first time in more than half a century in the next few years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies