China became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, the country's state-run media announced Thursday, a milestone that solidifies Beijing's ambitions to become a world leader in space exploration.
The Chang'e-4 probe landed at 10.26am Beijing time and sent a photo of the far side of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, which will relay communications to controllers on Earth, state broadcaster CCTV said. The Communist party-owned Global Times also reported the probe had "successfully made the first-ever soft landing" on the far side of the moon.
Chang'e 4, named after the Chinese Moon Goddess, carries a vehicle which will assist with the task of exploring the terrain's structure and the mineral composition of what is popularly known as the "dark side of the moon".
The mission is part of China's ambitious push to explore the Moon's resources and potential as a space base.
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’s lunar probe becomes first spacecraft to land on far side of the moon
Chang'e 4, which launched on December 7 and entered lunar orbit 4.5 days later, boasts eight science instruments: four apiece on a stationary lander and a mobile rover. But no probe had yet landed on the moon's dark side. Due to the fact that the Moon's period of rotation around Earth and its rotation about its axis are identical, only one hemisphere of the Moon can be observed from Earth at any point. That mission was only a partial success, since the rover suffered serious problems and died less than two months on the Moon, although the lander is still operational.
Unlike the near side of the moon that is "tidally locked" and always faces the earth - complete with many flat areas to touch down on - the far side is mountainous and rugged.
The rover is equipped with a low-frequency radio spectrometer to help scientists understand "how the earliest stars were ignited and how our cosmos emerged from darkness after the Big Bang", according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.
The landing was also greeted by Nasa administrator Jim Brindestine.
Beijing is planning to send another lunar lander, Chang'e-5, next year to collect samples and bring them back to Earth.