China’s ‘unprecedented’ space mission blasts off to the far side of the moon to collect

In Asia

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A Long March 5 rocket, carrying the Chang’e-6 mission lunar probe, lifts off as it rains at the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in southern China’s Hainan Province on May 3, 2024. 

Hector Retamal | Afp | Getty Images

China on Friday launched a space probe to collect samples from the far side of the moon in a mission that has been billed as “unprecedented” as the global space race heats up.

An unmanned rocket carrying the Chang’e-6 lunar probe took off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province just before 5:30 p.m. local time, kick-starting the 53-day planned mission.

The expedition aims to return around 5 pounds of lunar samples to Earth for analysis. If successful, scientists hope the findings could unlock fresh information about the moon’s origins.

“Collecting and returning samples from the far side of the moon is an unprecedented feat,” Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, said, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

“Scientists currently know very little about the moon’s far side. If the Chang’e-6 mission can achieve its goal, it will provide scientists with the first direct evidence to understand the environment and material composition of the far side of the moon, which is of great significance,” he added.

The launch marks a significant step forward in China’s space exploration ambitions as it seeks to compete with other global powers including the U.S.

Beijing has also stated that it wants to land Chinese astronauts on the moon by 2030, as well as sending probes to Mars and Jupiter.

Space is becoming a new geopolitical frontier as rival nations seek to expand their influence and access highly sought-after supplies of metals and critical minerals.

The head of the U.S. Space Command, Gen. Stephen Whiting, said last week that Beijing’s space development was moving at “breathtaking speed” and that the country was showing “clear intent” to project its power in orbit.

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