China's probe leaves far side of the Moon with soil samples

The Chang'e-6 mission is the first to collect rocks and dust from area not visible from Earth

China's Chang'e-6 probe is taken by a mini rover after it landed on the Moon's surface. CNSA / Xinhua via AP
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China's Chang'e-6 probe has lifted off from the far side of the Moon, starting its journey back towards Earth, the national space agency said.

The probe's successful departure on Tuesday from the lunar surface means China is closer to becoming the first country to return samples from the far side of the Moon, which permanently faces away from Earth.

The probe departed at 7.38am local time (11.38pm GMT) after successfully completing its sample collection on Sunday and Monday.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said Chang'e-6 "withstood the test of high temperature on the far side of the Moon".

Compared with its predecessor Chang'e-5, which retrieved samples from the near side, Chang'e-6 faced an additional technical challenge of operating without direct communication with ground stations on Earth.

Instead, the probe relied on relay satellite Queqiao-2, put into orbit in April, for communications.

The probe used a drill and robotic arm to dig up soil on and below the Moon's surface, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Chang'e-6 displayed China's national flag for the first time on the far side of Moon at the end of the mission, Beijing Daily said.

The probe is now in lunar orbit and will join up with another spacecraft in orbit, CNSA said.

The samples will then be transferred to a return module, which will fly back to Earth, with a landing in China's Inner Mongolia region expected around June 25.

The return of the lunar samples to Earth is being followed by scientists around the world, who hope the soil collected can help answer questions about the origins of the solar system.

The mission has also been closely followed in China as a source of national pride. Last month, thousands of tourists flocked to various viewing spots in the southern island province of Hainan to watch Chang'e-6 blasting off.

Pictures of a hole left on the lunar surface from the sample digging by Chang'e-6 went viral on Tuesday on Chinese social media platform Weibo after state broadcaster CCTV said the crater was shaped like the character "zhong", a nod to the Chinese word for China, "Zhongguo".

Updated: June 04, 2024, 2:28 PM