China's Spacecraft Makes the First-Ever Landing on Moon's Dark Side

Cristina Cross
January 7, 2019

The lunar explorer Chang'e 4 touched down on Thursday morning Beijing time (just before 2.30am GMT), official China Central Television said. While there have been several missions that explored the lunar surface, including the six-manned mission, the far side of the moon has been left unexplored.

Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the project, hailed the landing as a "trailblazing milestone" for the China's space programme.

A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon in the latest achievement for the country's growing space program.

The mission will also conduct the first astronomy observations from the moon's far side, which is seen as a uniquely attractive site for monitoring radio waves coming from deep space.

The public was kept in suspense about the landing itself for more than an hour after it occurred, with state broadcaster CCTV announcing it at the top of the noon news.

The first photos from the landing, shared by the China National Space Administration on Thursday, show the first close-ups of the far side of the moon's cratered surface.

Targeting the far side has turned this mission into a riskier and more complex venture than its predecessor, Chang'e-3 - which in 2013 touched down on the near side of the Moon, in the Mare Imbrium region. China solved that problem a year ago when it launched a lunar satellite called Queqiao, which now acts as the communication link between the lander and Earth.

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Over the next few days the Chinese lunar lander will deploy an unmanned robotic surface rover similar to the U.S. Apollo program's "moon buggy" that will explore and take samples of the lunar surface.

In a white paper published in December 2016, China made some of its most important missions public on its own, including the now-successful moon landing, several planet flybys and a Mars landing that's scheduled for 2020.

The far side's terrain is rugged with a multitude of impact craters.

The images are highly significant as they provide documented footage of the Moon's so-called "dark side".

The far-side landing is China's first attempt at "something that other space powers have not attempted before", Ye Quanzhi, an astronomer at Caltech, told the BBC.

The China National Space Administration plans to launch another probe, the Chang'e-5, later in 2019.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, following Russian Federation and the U.S. It has put two space stations into orbit and plans to launch a Mars rover in the mid-2020s.

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