Chinese Spacecraft Lands on Earth With First Samples in Human History from Far Side of Moon

Return Address

China's Chang'e 6 lunar probe has officially returned the first samples collected from the far side of the Moon to scientists here on Earth, a major achievement highlighting the country's rapidly advancing space ambitions.

The probe touched down in Inner Mongolia on Tuesday, delivering the incredibly rare package, which is expected to include 2.5-million-year-old volcanic rock.

The mission launched in early May and landed roughly a month later. Within just over 48 hours, the probe scooped up some samples using a drill and launched back into space to embark on its weekslong return journey.

It even had time to drop off several scientific payloads on the lunar service, including an instrument that immediately detected the presence of negative ions.

China became the first to touch down on the far side of the Moon in April 2019 and has remained the only country to have ever done so — let alone twice.

Crater Face

The Moon's far side, which permanently faces away from Earth, remains far less explored than its much better-understood near side. Its difficult terrain, which includes tall craters and massive boulders, makes it an extremely challenging place to explore.

Scientists are hoping to discover usable resources there, including water ice, which future explorers could use as a source of water, oxygen, and hydrogen.

"It’s incredibly exciting to see this landing successfully," Scotland astronomer royal Catherine Heymans told the BBC. "The geological activity on the Moon is very different on the near side and the far side and it’s been a big puzzle why we see those differences."

Researchers are now ready to pore over the over four pounds of samples as they look to uncover the mysteries surrounding the Moon's formation and evolution.

And they can barely contain their excitement.

"It’s a gold mine... a treasure chest," Brown University professor of planetary geosciences James Head told CNN. "International scientists are totally excited about the mission."

More on the mission: Chinese Lander Instrument Detects Negative Ions on Far Side of Moon