China's Chang'e 4 Lander Touches Down on Far Side of Moon

The launch of Chang'e 4 lunar probe

China has shared images of the rover leaving its first tracks on the lunar surface.

An image of the far side of the moon captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched in 2009.

The lunar explorer Chang'e 4 touched down at 10:26 Beijing time (0226 GMT), China Central Television said, and relayed a photo of the "dark side" of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, which will relay communications between controllers on Earth and the far side of the moon.

The Chang'e-4 lunar probe mission - named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology - launched in December from the southwestern Xichang launch centre. Previously, the USA and the former Soviet Union were the only countries that had managed Moon landings.

Close-up view of the wheel of the Chang'e-4 rover 'Yutu 2 (Jade Rabbit 2).

The landing confirmed China's military-run space programme as a leading power as competition builds to explore the moon after a decades-long lull. While scarce on Earth, previous observations of the far side from crewed and person-free craft make it likely a large amount is present. Our moon has a nifty trick: It's tidally locked to Earth, which means that one half of the lunar surface always faces us, while the other half always faces away from us.

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In 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States, and in 2017 it said it was preparing to send a person to the moon.

The spacecraft landed in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the oldest known impact zone. The other side, most of which can not be seen from the Earth, is called the far side or dark side because most of it is uncharted. The Chang'e 4 and its quirky rover won't be capable of that, but it will carry out a number of experiments and relay data it gathers during its time on the Moon's surface.

"China has never said it is in a space race with the USA, and has no such intention", said Professor Wang Xiangsui, director of the Research Centre of Strategic Issues at Beihang University.

"It's an important milestone for China's space exploration", Wu Weiren, chief designer of the lunar exploration program, noted.

Harvard astronomer Avi Loeb said that in the future, it may be possible to see much farther - and thus earlier - into the universe from the far side because the moon itself will block interfering radio signals from Earth.

The transfer mechanism unlocked as planned with one side reaching the moon's surface, allowing the rover to descend to the surface from the slope.



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