Chinese spacecraft is first to land on far side of moon

Sky News :

A Chinese spacecraft has become the first to land on the far side of the moon, according to state media.

The lunar explorer Chang’e 4 touched down on Thursday morning Beijing time (just before 2.30am GMT), official China Central Television said.

Soon after landing, it transmitted the first “close range” images of the moon’s far side – somewhere previous spacecraft have seen but never landed on.

It “lifted the mysterious veil” and “opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration”, according to the state broadcaster.

Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the probe, added: “The whole process was as expected, the result was pretty precise and the landing was very stable.

“The current landing location is our most ideal landing place, in other word, we are right on target.”

The probe, containing a lander and a rover, was launched on a Long March 3B rocket from Xichang in the south of the country on 8 December.

Chang’e 4 and its three predecessors were named after a Chinese goddess, who legend says has lived on the moon for thousands of years.

Chinese state media said at the time that the area being targeted was the Aitken Basin, an impact crater about eight miles deep in the lunar south pole region.

Ten experiments were planned – six from China and four from other countries.

Among the experiments are planting potatoes and other seeds. The rover will also test minerals and radiation.

The far side of the moon is still a relative mystery and communication is difficult because it always points away from Earth and this means signals can be blocked.

To overcome that, a satellite named Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) after an ancient Chinese folk tale was blasted into the moon’s orbit in May, to act as a link between the lander and Earth.

While the terrain on the near side of the moon has many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is rugged and mountainous.

The ambitious mission also signals China’s intention to become a global power in space exploration, with Chang’e 3 having in 2013 become the first probe to make a moon landing since the then-Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976.

The US is the only other country that has carried out moon landings.

China, which is investing billions in its military-run space programme, has previously said it hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022.