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China’s Chang’e 6 mission blasts off from lunar surface carrying moon rocks

This image shows China's Chang'e 6 lander on the surface of the moon.
This image shows China’s Chang’e 6 lander on the surface of the moon. CNSA

China’s Chang’e 6 mission, which made an impressive touchdown on the moon this past weekend, has scooped up samples from the lunar surface and has now taken off. It has departed the moon to carry the samples back to Earth for study, as reported by China’s state news agency.

The Chang’e 6 mission consists of an orbiter, a lander, an ascent vehicle, and a returner. The lander and ascender separated from the orbiter last week, touching down on the moon’s surface near the lunar south pole. The mission then performed rapid sampling, packaging up a sample from the moon into a container inside the ascender.

The mission took two types of sample, including using a robotic arm to scoop up material from the surface and a drill to collect material from beneath the surface. Chinese researchers hope to use these samples to learn about the moon’s environment and history, including studying the structure of the dusty regolith that covers the surface. This could help show how the moon formed and evolved, and about the early history of the solar system.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) described the liftoff from the lunar surface as “an unprecedented feat in human lunar exploration history,” pointing out that the lander was able to handle the extremes of temperature that the far side of the moon experiences. Temperatures on the moon’s surface can get as high as 250°F (121°C) during the day time, then fall as low as -208°F (-133°C) at night.

“The mission has withstood the test of high temperature on the far side of the moon,” said the CNSA.

The Chang’e 6 mission will be China’s second mission to return a sample from the moon, following the Chang’e 5 mission that brought the first lunar sample in more than 40 years back to Earth in 2020. Since that mission, the hardware of Chang’e 6 has been updated with more autonomous and more reliable navigation, guidance, and control, making it able to take off from the moon with less reliance on satellites and ground support.

Now, the orbiter and returner will enter orbit around the moon, waiting for the best opportunity to head back to Earth. The mission is scheduled to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere on June 25, landing in the desert in the Inner Mongolia region of China.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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