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China’s Chang’e-6 moon mission returns to Earth with historic far side samples

Hong Kong CNN —

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar module returned to Earth Tuesday, successfully completing its historic mission to collect the first ever samples from the far side of the moon in a major step forward for the country’s ambitious space program.

The reentry module “successfully landed” in a designated zone in China’s northern Inner Mongolia region just after 2 p.m. local time, according to state broadcaster CCTV. A livestream carried by CCTV showed the module touching down via parachute to a round of applause in the mission control room.

“The Chang’e-6 lunar exploration mission has been a complete success,” said Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), from the control room.

A search team located the module minutes after its landing, according to CCTV. The livestream showed a worker carrying out checks on the module, which lay on grassland beside a Chinese flag.

The successful mission is a key milestone in China’s “eternal dream” – as articulated by Chinese leader Xi Jinping – to establish the country as a dominant space power and comes as a number of countries, including the United States, also ramp up their own lunar exploration programs.

In a congratulatory message Tuesday, Xi hailed the mission as “another landmark achievement in building a strong country in space, and science and technology.”

Beijing plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2030 and build a research base at the lunar south pole – a region believed to contain water ice, where the US also hopes to establish a base.

The Chang’e-6 probe is expected to have returned to Earth with up to 2 kilograms of moon dust and rocks from the lunar far side, which will be analyzed by researchers in China before being opened for