China's new lunar rover leaves first "footprint" on moon's far side

Pablo Tucker
December 1, 2019

The Chang'e-4 lunar probe, launched in December, made the "soft landing" at 2:26 GMT (9:26 pm ET Wednesday) and transmitted the first-ever "close range" image of the far side of the moon, the China National Space Administration said. The mission harbored some risk, because operators on Earth can not directly communicate with spacecraft on the moon's far side.

"The process was recorded by the camera on the lander and the images were sent back to the Earth via the relay satellite "Queqiao"," the report said, quoting China National Space Administration (CNSA).

It's not all that often that China breaks entirely new ground when it comes to space science but that's exactly what the country did earlier today by successfully landing its Chang'e 4 spacecraft on the Moon's surface. Chang'e is the name of a Chinese goddess who, according to legend, has lived on the moon for millennia. The far side is popularly called the "dark side" because it can't be seen from Earth and is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight.

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

The BBC's John Sudworth in Beijing says the propaganda value of China's leaps forward in its space programme has been tempered by careful media management.

Photographs taken by earlier spacecraft, including the Soviet Union's Luna 3 and Zond 3 (launched in 1959 and 1965, respectively) and NASA's Lunar Orbiter program (launched in 1966), found significant differences between the far side's terrain and the surface of the moon visible from Earth.

Beijing is planning to send another lunar lander, Chang'e-5, later this year to collect samples and bring them back to Earth. The Chang'e 4 entered the lunar orbit four days later after its launch, South China Morning Post reported.

The far side of the moon, because it faces away from Earth, isn't polluted by radio "noise" from our planet. "This probe can fill the gap of low-frequency observation in radio astronomy and will provide important information for studying the origin of stars and nebula evolution".

"It's a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation", Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Lunar Exploration Project, told state broadcaster CCTV, in a twist of USA astronaut Neil Armstrong's famous comment when he became the first human to walk on the moon in 1969.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, following Russian Federation and the U.S. It has put two space stations into orbit and plans to launch a Mars rover in the mid-2020s.

"Building a space power is a dream that we persistently pursue", said Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the China Lunar Exploration Project, speaking with CCTV at the Beijing Aerospace Flight and Control Center.

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