Chinese spacecraft makes first landing on moon's far side

Christopher Davidson
January 6, 2019

Xinhua, a state-run news agency, reports that the China National Space Administration's Chang'e-4 touched down on the moon's surface at 10:26 a.m., Beijing time, on January 3, 2019.

"It's a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation", Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Lunar Exploration Project, told state broadcaster CCTV, in a twist of USA astronaut Neil Armstrong's famous comment when he became the first human to walk on the moon in 1969. The area available for the landing is only one eighth of that for Chang'e-3, and is surrounded by mountains as high as 10 km. The Chang'e-4 unit consists of a lunar station and a lunar rover.

"It was a great challenge with the short time, high difficulty and risks", Wu said. The Aitken Basin - some 2,500km (1,600 miles) in diameter - is thought to have been formed by a massive impact and the resultant hole exposes the subsurface layers of the Moon. When it was 2 meters above the surface, the engine stopped, and the spacecraft landed with four legs cushioning against the shock.

That's because the Chinese lunar probe, Chang'e-4, became the first manmade spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon. The landing on Thursday was announced to the public by state broadcaster CCTV at the top of the noon news. Unlike the near side that always faces the earth, it is mountainous and rugged.

The Chang'e 4 mission is a coup for China's ambitious lunar and space exploration programs.

To communicate with researchers at the China National Space Administration, Chang'e-4 relays signals to Queqiao, a satellite that's now circling above the moon's far side in a halo orbit.

China's landing was the first-ever successful "soft-landing", which means a landing without damage, on the far side of the moon.

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A Long March-3B rocket carrying Chang'e 4 lunar probe takes off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, China December 8, 2018.

With the use of a rover, the Chang'e 4 will be put to work on the moon's surface, making astronomical observations and probing in order to work out the structure and mineral composition of the moon's terrain.

What is the "far side of the Moon"?

The United States is so far the only country to have landed humans on the moon.

The country is hailing the possibilities that the landing of Chang'e 4 opens up because this is the first time such a mission has reached the far side of the Moon.

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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