China Makes Historic Touchdown on Moon's Far Side

Katie Ramirez
December 1, 2019

On Thursday morning The China National Space Administration confirmed touchdown on the dark side of the Moon - the first time any nation has achieved the feat - and transmitted the first-ever close range image from the surface.

The photo of the rover was sent via the Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) satellite, which was blasted into the moon's orbit in May to relay data and commands between the lander and Earth.

Named after the Chinese Goddess of the Moon, the Chang'e 4 made its official landing at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time on Thursday near the moon's south pole, according to the China National Space Administration state-run news agency Xinhua.

Chang'e 4, a combined lander and rover, will make astronomical observations and probe the composition of the soil. Instead, Chang'e 4 used hazard-avoidance software to check for dangers at the landing site, as David Rothery explains at The Conversation today. (Pink Floyd released the album "The Dark Side of the Moon" in 1973.) Also likely unhelpful is an instinctual response to counter that misconception by arguing that there is no dark side of the moon.

Chinese media and officials hailed the December 8 launch of Chang'e 4 as one of the nation's major achievements in 2018.

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NASA administrators have said people could be put on Mars by as soon as the mid-2030s, with the agency having landed eight spacecraft there, the most recent in November.

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While China's space program still lags America's, he said "China has already positioned itself at least as good as Russian Federation and the European Union".

Photographs taken by earlier spacecraft, including the Soviet Union's Luna 3 and Zond 3 (launched in 1959 and 1965, respectively) and NASA's Lunar Orbiter program (launched in 1966), found significant differences between the far side's terrain and the surface of the moon visible from Earth.

The spacecraft landed in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the oldest known impact zone.

For now, it plans to send a Chang'e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples - also not done since the Soviet mission in 1976. That's when space rocks were careening off each other and crashing into moons and planets, including Earth.

Exploring the cosmos from the far side of the moon could eventually help scientists learn more about the early days of the solar system and even the birth of the universe's first stars.

"Scientists believe that the back of the moon is more ancient than the front", CNSA explains (via translation).

Space development is a priority for Beijing's "Made in China 2025" initiative to develop cutting-edge industries.

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