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    China Prepares for Historic Mission to Moon’s Far Side

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    China is poised to launch a groundbreaking mission to the far side of the moon, marking the first in a series of ambitious endeavours that could ultimately lead to a crewed landing and the establishment of a lunar base. Scheduled in the coming days, the mission, named Chang’e-6, represents a significant leap forward in China’s lunar exploration program, bringing it closer to parity with the United States.

    Since its inaugural Chang’e mission in 2007, China has made remarkable progress in lunar exploration, culminating in the successful retrieval of samples from the moon’s near side in 2020—the first such endeavour in over forty years. This week’s launch of Chang’e-6 will utilize the backup spacecraft from the 2020 mission to collect soil and rocks from the moon’s far side, a region perpetually hidden from Earth’s view.

    A key challenge for Chang’e-6 is its reliance on a newly deployed relay satellite orbiting the moon, enabling communication during its 53-day mission, including a daring ascent from the moon’s “hidden” side on its return journey. This same satellite will support subsequent missions, including Chang’e-7 and 8, slated for 2026 and 2028, respectively. These missions will focus on exploring the moon’s south pole for water resources and establishing a preliminary outpost in collaboration with Russia, with the ultimate goal of landing Chinese astronauts on the moon by 2030.

    China’s polar ambitions have raised concerns at NASA, whose administrator, Bill Nelson, has cautioned against potential territorial claims on lunar resources. However, Beijing asserts its commitment to collaborative efforts for a “shared” future in space exploration.

    Chang’e-6 will carry payloads from France, Italy, Sweden, and Pakistan, while Chang’e-7 will include contributions from Russia, Switzerland, and Thailand. Meanwhile, the United States, prohibited by law from direct or indirect collaboration with China, is pursuing its Artemis program, with plans for American astronauts to land near the moon’s south pole in 2026—the first human presence on the moon since 1972.

    Chang’e-6’s landing site, situated in the northeastern region of the vast South Pole-Aitken Basin, represents a significant milestone in lunar exploration. The area, the site of the southernmost landing ever conducted in February by the joint NASA-Intuitive Machines mission IM-1, is dubbed the “golden belt” for lunar exploration due to its potential for sustaining long-term research bases.

    Polar ice discovered by India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008 further underscores the importance of the moon’s south pole as a potential resource for sustaining future lunar activities. Chang’e-6’s sample return mission aims to provide valuable insights into the moon’s early evolution and the broader dynamics of the inner solar system.

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