Chang'e 4 makes historic first landing on the moon's far side


The spacecraft, the Chang'e 4, sent back its first images of an illuminated dark side of the moon at 11.40am China time (3.40 GMT) after landing down on the moon's South Pole-Aitken basin.

"Since the far side of the Moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it's an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can "listen" to the deeper reaches of the cosmos," said Tongjie Liu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center at China's National Space Administration.

The first photos from the landing, shared by the China National Space Administration on Thursday, show the first close-ups of the far side of the moon's cratered surface.

The probe, which includes a lander and a rover, touched down at a preselected landing area, the official Xinhua news agency said, after it had entered the moon's orbit in mid-December.

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The dominant feature is the 2,500km-wide South Pole-Aitken basin, the Moon's oldest and deepest crater.

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Since launching its first astronaut into space in 2003, China has been on an ambitious drive to catch up with the pack led by the United States.

Another space programme on China's list is of collecting samples from the moon. Practically, this meant Chang'e 4 was on its own as it descended to the surface with its important scientific payload, on a side of the moon marked by rugged terrain. Many spacecrafts have seen and mapped the "dark side", but none landed on the lunar surface. So in May 2018, China put a communications relay satellite called Queqiao into a loop 65,000 kilometers beyond the moon at Earth-moon Lagrange Point 2, a gravitationally balanced location from which the spacecraft can exchange signals with both Earth and the moon's far side.

The lander has succeeded in its first task of deploying its rover - named Yutu-2 - which has started exploring the Moon's Von Karman crater. The mission also encompasses a biological experiment, to assess whether seeds can germinate and silkworm larvae can hatch and grow in a sealed container containing nutrients, water and air. In 2013, Chang-e 3 was the first spacecraft to land on the moon since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976. The lack of a direct line of sight with our planet means it's hard to receive radio signals sent from robots on the far side, which is why nobody's ever been able to land there before.

An image of the far side of the moon captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched in 2009.

"Scientists believe that the back of the moon is more ancient than the front", CNSA explains (via translation).