China launches probe to get samples from less-explored far side of the moon

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China on Friday launched a lunar probe to land on the far side of the moon and return with samples that could provide insights into differences between the less-explored region and the better-known near side.

It is the latest advance in China’s increasingly sophisticated space exploration program, which is now competing with the U.S., still the leader in space.

Free from exposure to Earth and other interference, the moon’s somewhat mysterious far side is ideal for radio astronomy and other scientific work. Because the far side never faces Earth, a relay satellite is needed to maintain communications.

China also has a three-member crew on its own orbiting space station and aims to put astronauts on the moon by 2030. Three Chinese lunar probe missions are planned over the next four years.

The rocket carrying the Chang’e-6 lunar probe — named after the Chinese mythical moon goddess — lifted off Friday at 5:27 p.m. as planned from the Wenchang launch center on the island province of Hainan.

Huge numbers of people crowded Hainan’s beaches to view the launch, which comes in the middle of China’s five-day May Day holiday. / AP

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