Chinese mission flies to the far side of the moon: What you need to know about NASA and China’s space race | Science and technology news

China’s Chang’e-6 robotic spacecraft is launching in hopes of becoming the first mission to collect rock and soil samples from the far side of the moon.

It’s the next step in an exciting race between the two NASA And China to set up bases on the moon and take off from there Mars.

Beijing has made great strides in lunar exploration since the first Chang’e mission in 2007, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess.

What will Chang’e 6 do?

The spacecraft is scheduled to land on the northeast side of the vast Aitken Basin. It is the oldest impact crater in the solar system.

Samples will be collected there and brought to Earth so that scientists can study what’s on the far side of the moon for the first time. In 2019, the mission’s predecessor, Chang’e-4 was the first spacecraft to successfully land on the far side of the Moon.

We only see one side of the moon at a time because it takes the same amount of time to rotate on its axis as it does to orbit the Earth, about a month.

According to NASA, the side facing away from Earth is dotted with many craters of varying sizes and has a thicker, older crust.

Once Chang’e-6 has collected all of its samples, it will attempt to lift off from the far side of the Moon for the first time in history.

The Chang'e-4 lunar lander is seen on the far side of the moon on January 11, 2019.  Photo: China National Space Administration/AP
The Chang’e-4 lunar lander is seen on the far side of the moon on January 11, 2019. Image: AP

Chang’e-6’s mission will last about 53 days and will collect about 2 kg of material using a shovel and a drill, NASA says.

It is the first of three unmanned spacecraft missions before China attempts to land a crew and establish a base at the moon’s south pole.

Four countries – the United States, Russia, China and India – have landed spacecraft on the moon.

The great space race

The far side of the moon is an increasingly popular travel destination. Last year, India celebrated as its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft became the first spacecraft to land on the lunar south pole.

NASA wants to make history by sending the first humans near the lunar south pole with its Artemis mission in 2026 and ultimately establishing a habitable base there.

China says it plans to reach that goal in 2030, but NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said this recently he believes they are accelerating their plans.

“The latest landing date they have announced is 2030, but that keeps going up,” he told the House Budget Committee in April.

“It’s our job to get there first,” he said.

Moon.  Image: NASA
Image: NASA

Why is everyone so desperate to reach a side of the moon we can’t even see?

Simply put, it’s about water.

Ever since India discovered in 2008 that there might be ice in the moon’s south polar craters, scientists have wanted to know whether there is water up there.

If this is the case, missions to Mars will be much easier to achieve, as will maintaining long-term bases on the Moon.

Read more: The space race for the moon’s water

But Earth’s politics take place in space.

NASA is so desperate to reach China on the moon because it believes the country will lay claim to the moon’s water and could develop “secret military capabilities” in space.

“I would be worried if China got there first and said, ‘This is our territory, you stay out,'” Mr. Nelson said.

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Some 39 countries, including the United Kingdom, have signed NASA’s Artemis Convention, an agreement that requires the conduct of space activities for peaceful purposes and requires countries to abide by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.

This treaty states that space “shall be the domain of all humanity.”

Although China previously signed the Outer Space Treaty, it has not signed the Artemis Treaty.

But Beijing says it remains committed to working with all nations to build a “common” future.

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