Published: Sun, January 06, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Chinese spacecraft makes first landing on far side of the moon

Chinese spacecraft makes first landing on far side of the moon

The new probe will consist of an orbiter and a lander and is set to be China's first sample-return mission, aiming to bring at least 2 kilograms of lunar soil and rock samples back to Earth.

The moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate that it orbits our planet, so the far side is never visible from Earth.

China's probe, named Chang'e 4, which is now orbiting the moon, will release a rover and lander combination that will be the first craft to successfully reach the side of the moon largely obstructed from observation from Earth.

To overcome the problem, the China National Space Administration launched the Queqiiao relay satellite, last May to assist with the relay exchange between Earth and the Chang'e-4 probe. Previously, the U.S. and the former Soviet Union were the only countries that had managed Moon landings.

The mission of Chang-e 4, which is carrying a rover, includes carrying out low-frequency radio astronomical observations and probing the structure and mineral composition of the terrain.

China's growing ambitions in space go hand in hand with its more terrestrial competition with the United States.

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Fitted with cameras, ground-penetrating radar and other tools, Chang'e-4 was created to help scientists answer lingering questions about our moon's geologic past.

It was not until 1959 that the Soviet Union captured the first images of the heavily cratered surface, uncloaking some of the mystery of the moon's "dark side". The far side can't be seen from Earth and is popularly called the "dark side" by some because it is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight.

"There are two weeks of daylight and two weeks of night on every spot on the lunar surface", Charlie Duke, the Lunar Module pilot on the Apollo 16 mission, told Space.com. It also reflects China's peaceful use of space.

The Queqiao satellite is deployed about 455,000 kilometers from Earth, where it will relay communications between ground controllers and the Chang'e-4.

The Chinese Jade Rabbit 2 rover is making tracks on the soft, snowlike surface of the far side of the moon.

It has one of the largest craters in the Solar System, the South Pole-Aitken basin, where Chang'e-4 landed. That was China's first moon landing and the beginning of its second mission phase. The United States is still the only country to have humans step foot on the moon. Its space program suffered a rare delay previous year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.

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