Chinese space probe lands on the far side of the Moon to take samples

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese space probe landed on the far side of the moon Sunday to take soil and rock samples that could provide information about the differences between this lesser-explored region and the better-known side.

The lunar lander touched down at 6:23 a.m. Beijing time in a huge crater known as Aitken Basin at the moon’s south pole, China’s National Space Administration said.

The mission is the sixth of the Chang’e lunar exploration program, named after the Chinese moon goddess. This is the second ship designed to deliver samples, after Chang’e 5, which did so from the near side in 2020.

The lunar program is part of a growing rivalry with the United States, which remains the leader in space exploration, and other countries such as Japan and India. China has launched its own space station into orbit and regularly sends crews there.

The emerging world power aims to put a man on the moon by 2030, making it the second country after the United States to do so. The United States plans to send astronauts to the moon again for the first time in more than 50 years, although NASA pushed back the planned date to 2026 earlier this year.

U.S. efforts to use private sector rockets to launch spacecraft have repeatedly faced delays. Last-minute computer problems prevented the planned launch of Boeing’s first astronaut flight on Saturday.

Early Saturday, a Japanese billionaire canceled his plan to orbit the moon due to uncertainty over SpaceX’s mega-rocket development. NASA plans to use the rocket to send astronauts to the Moon.

On China’s current mission, the lander will use a mechanical arm and drill to collect up to 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of material from the surface and underground over about two days.

A device on top of the lander will carry the samples in a vacuum-sealed metal container to another lander orbiting the Moon. The container will be transferred to a recovery capsule that will return to Earth in the deserts of China’s Inner Mongolia region around June 25.

Missions to the far side of the Moon are more complex because they focus on an area not facing Earth and require a relay satellite to maintain communications. Additionally, the terrain is more rugged and there are fewer flat areas to land on.

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