Chinese space probe makes historic touchdown on dark side of Moon

Monday, 07 Jan, 2019

China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe is expected to make the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon.

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. The Chang'e-4 probe has already sent back its first pictures from the surface.

The Chang'e-4 probe touched down and sent a photo of the so-called "dark side" of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, which will relay communications to controllers on Earth, state broadcaster CCTV said.

The moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate as it orbits our planet, so most of the far side - or "dark side" - is never visible to us.

And a second one showed it starting to drive off into the distance.

Like its predecessor, Yutu-2, capable of enduring vacuum pressure, intense radiation, and extreme temperatures is equipped with four scientific payloads, including a panoramic camera, infrared imaging spectrometer and radar measurement devices, to obtain images of the moon's surface and detect lunar soil and structure. It can climb a 20-degree hill or mount an obstacle up to 8 inches tall. Its maximum speed is 200 meters per hour.

Chang'e 1, named after a mythological Chinese moon goddess, first circled the moon in 2007. The lander sent back images taken shortly after its touchdown as well as a photo of the rover slowly rolling across the dusty lunar surface.

The pioneering landing demonstrates China's growing ambitions as a space power. The country aims to land a crewed flight on the moon in the coming decade. "China views this landing as just a stepping stone, as it also views its future manned lunar landing since its long-term goal is to colonize the moon and use it as a vast supply of energy". Everything appears to be working smoothly, which is great news for astronomers, and we can likely expect plenty of Moon news out of China in the coming weeks. The Chang'e-4 unit consists of a lunar station and a lunar rover. By comparison, NASA's Opportunity rover on Mars weighs about 181 kilogrammes, and the Curiosity rover there is much bigger, at 908 kilogrammes.

In 2013, Chang'e 3 made the first moon landing since the former Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976.

In this December 8, 2018, file photo, and released by Xinhua News Agency, the Chang'e 4 lunar probe launches from the the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China's Sichuan province.