BANGKOK (NEWSnet/AP) — China’s Chang’e 6 lunar lander has returned to Earth with rock and soil samples from the little-explored far side of the moon.

The spacecraft landed Tuesday afternoon in the Inner Mongolian region in northern China.

“I now declare that the Chang’e 6 Lunar Exploration Mission achieved complete success,” Zhang Kejian, Director of the China National Space Administration, said in a televised news conference after the landing.

Chinese scientists anticipate the returned samples will include 2.5 million-year-old volcanic rock and other material that scientists hope will answer questions about geographic differences on the moon’s two sides.

The near side is what is seen from Earth, and the far side faces outer space. The far side is known to have mountains and impact craters, but has not been explored as much as the near side.

The lander was in the moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin, an impact crater created more than 4 billion years ago. The samples scientists are expecting will likely come from different layers of the basin, which will bear traces of the different geological events across its long chronology, such as when the moon was younger and had an active inside that could produce volcanic rock.

“This is a global first in the sense that it’s the first time anyone has been able to take off from the far side of the moon and bring back samples,” said Richard de Grijs, a professor of astrophysics at Macquarie University in Australia.

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 spacecraft left earth on May 3, and its journey lasted 53 days.

China has said it plans to share the samples with international scientists, although it did not say exactly in which countries.

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