Chinese Spacecraft Lands on Far Side of Moon Amidst Intensifying Space Competition with US

A Chinese spacecraft touched down on the moon’s far side on Sunday to gather and return soil and rock samples, providing insights into the differences between the less-explored region and its better-known counterpart.

The landing module touched down at 6:23 a.m. Beijing time in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, one of the largest craters in the solar system, according to the China National Space Administration.

The mission, named after a Chinese moon goddess, is the second designed to bring back samples, following the Chang’e 5, which did so from the near side in 2020.

The moon program is part of a growing rivalry with the U.S. — still the leader in space exploration — and others, including Japan and India. China has put its own space station in orbit and regularly sends crews there.

The emerging global power aims to put a person on the moon before 2030, which would make it the second nation after the United States to do so. America is planning to land astronauts on the moon again — for the first time in more than 50 years — though NASA pushed the target date back to 2026 earlier this year.

U.S. efforts to use private-sector rockets to launch spacecraft have been repeatedly delayed. Last-minute computer trouble nixed the planned launch of Boeing’s first astronaut flight Saturday.

Earlier Saturday, a Japanese billionaire called off his plan to orbit the moon due to uncertainty over the development of a mega rocket by SpaceX, which NASA plans to use to send its astronauts to the moon.

Over the next two days, the lander will use a mechanical arm and a drill to gather up to 4.4 pounds of surface and underground material.

An ascender atop the lander will then take the samples in a metal vacuum container back to another module that is orbiting the moon. The container will be transferred to a reentry capsule that is due to return to Earth in the deserts of China’s Inner Mongolia region about June 25.

Missions to the moon’s far side are more difficult because it doesn’t face the Earth, requiring a relay satellite to maintain communications. The terrain is also more rugged, with fewer flat areas to land.

The South Pole-Aitken Basin, an impact crater created more than 4 billion years ago, is 8 miles deep and has a diameter of 1,500 miles, according to a report by China’s Xinhua News Agency.

It is the oldest and largest of such craters, and may provide the earliest information about the moon, Xinhua said, adding that the huge impact may have ejected materials from deep below the surface.