China lands on moon’s far side in historic sample-retrieval mission

Published June 3, 2024
A May 3 file photo shows carrier rocket combination sitting atop the launch pad at the Wenchang Space 
Site in Hainan province.—Reuters
A May 3 file photo shows carrier rocket combination sitting atop the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Site in Hainan province.—Reuters

BEIJING: China landed an uncrewed spacecraft on the far side of the moon on Sunday, overcoming a key hurdle in its landmark mission to retrieve the world’s first rock and soil samples from the dark lunar hemisphere.

The landing elevates China’s space power status in a global rush to the moon, where countries including the United States are hoping to exploit lunar minerals to sustain long-term astronaut missions and moon bases within the next decade.

The Chang’e-6 craft, equipped with an array of tools and its own launcher, touched down in a gigantic impact crater called the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the moon’s space-facing side at 6:23am Beijing time, the China National Space Administration said.

The mission “involves many engineering innovations, high risks and great difficulty”, the agency said in a statement on its website. “The payloads carried by the Chang’e-6 lander will work as planned and carry out scientific exploration missions.” The successful mission is China’s second on the far side of the moon, a region no other country has reached. The side of the moon perpetually facing away from the Earth is dotted with deep and dark craters, making communications and robotic landing operations more challenging.

Given these challenges, lunar and space experts involved in the Chang’e-6 mission described the landing phase as a moment where the chance of failure is the highest.

“Landing on the far side of the moon is very difficult because you don’t have line-of-sight communications, you’re relying on a lot of links in the chain to control what is going on, or you have to automate what is going on,” said Neil Melville-Kenney, a technical officer at the European Space Agency working with China on one of the Chang’e-6 payloads.

“Automation is very difficult especially at high latitudes because you have long shadows which can be very confusing for landers,” Melville added. The Chang’e-6 probe launched on May 3 on China’s Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on the southern island of Hainan, reaching the lunar vicinity roughly a week later before tightening its orbit in preparation for a landing.

Chang’e-6 marks the world’s third lunar landing this year: Japan’s SLIM lander touched down in January, followed the next month by a lander from US startup Intuitive Machines.

The other countries that have sent spacecraft to Earth’s nearest neighbour are the then-Soviet Union and India. The United States is the only country to have landed humans on the moon, starting in 1969.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

Injustice undone
Updated 13 Jul, 2024

Injustice undone

The SC verdict is a stunning reversal of fortunes for a party that was, both before and after general elections, being treated as a defunct entity.
Looming flour shortage
13 Jul, 2024

Looming flour shortage

FOR once, it is hard to argue against the reason that compelled flour mills to call a nationwide strike from...
Same old script
13 Jul, 2024

Same old script

WHEN it comes to the troubling issue of enforced disappearances/ missing persons — either Baloch or belonging to...
Misery and despair
Updated 12 Jul, 2024

Misery and despair

Is a life lived happily and respectably too much to ask for from your country?
Temporary extension
12 Jul, 2024

Temporary extension

THE cabinet’s decision to allow ‘legal’ Afghan refugees — meaning those with Proof of Registration cards —...
Anti-smog strategy
12 Jul, 2024

Anti-smog strategy

BY acknowledging that smog is a year-round problem, and not just a winter issue, the Punjab government has taken the...