Chinese spacecraft makes first landing on Moon's far side

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

China plans to put astronauts on a lunar base in about 10 years.

China just pulled off something never accomplished in the history of mankind before: They successfully landed a probe on the far side of the moon. Within a minute or two, those tweets were deleted, but the media echoes nevertheless continued through the Twitterverse, mailing lists and online reports. Indeed, this communication complication is a big reason why the far-side surface had not previously welcomed any functioning spacecraft (though a few probes have crashed there over the years).

Chang'e 4 entered an elliptical path around the moon at the weekend, drawing as close as 15km from the surface.

Why is this landing so significant?

"The moon is more challenging to land on than Mars", Melosh said.

"Gaining confidence in far side landings opens "the other continent" for full exploration and sample return, and to a treasure trove of scientific targets and fundamental scientific results".

It takes the moon about the same amount of time to spin once on its axis as it does for the natural satellite to orbit the Earth: 27.3 days.

The moon is what scientists call "tidally locked " which means the same side always faces us, while another side always faces away, Loeb said. Even if the robot was able to conduct all of its operations and experiments perfectly, on its own, there would be no way for it to transmit what it finds back home.

However, this only refers to the side of the moon being unseen on earth - it still receives sunlight.

Chang’e 4 Moon Farside

Thursday's official televised announcement that the probe had landed came approximately an hour after state media outlets China Daily and China Global Television Network deleted posts on social media proclaiming the mission a success, sparking widespread confusion as to whether the probe had made touchdown.

A Long March 3B rocket carrying Chang'e 4 blasted off on December 8 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China.

The mission is targeting the flat interior of 112-mile-wide Von Karman Crater, which is within the moon's South Pole-Aitken Basin. This huge feature is the site of an ancient massive impact event, and although it has been imaged extensively from orbit, this is the first time it can be studied in detail from the surface.

Also today, China revealed the name of the rover: "Yutu 2".

The lander carries a rover expected to be deployed sometime Friday China time. It began a gradual descent to the lunar surface in successively lower orbits around the moon in preparation for the controlled landing Wednesday.

The lander is created to deploy a rover, following the model set five years ago by China's first robotic lunar landing mission, Chang'e-3.

Chang'e 4 could also contribute to radio astronomy.

Shortly after the landing, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine noted the accomplishments of the Chinese space agency on Twitter: "Congratulations to China's Chang'e-4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the Moon".

The agency also said the reduced radio signals from earth would allow scientists to study the sun, other planets, and the origin of stars.

Vanessa Coleman

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