China’s unmanned Chang’e 4 probe has successfully touched down on the far side of the Moon this morning at 10:26 Beijing time, marking a milestone in the country’s space exploration as the first in history to touch the lunar surface unseen by those on the Earth.
Chang’e 4 probe has "landed on the pre-selected area on the far side of the Moon at 10.26 a.m. Beijing time", said China’s national space agency the China National Space Administration (CNSA) in an announcement released on January 3.
The spacecraft, named "Chang’e 4″ after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology, consists of a lander and a rover. It carries a series of instruments to characterize the geology of the once-unexplored Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken basin, as well as equipment to conduct biological experiments, said the CNSA in the announcement.
This is an unprecedented achievement: the craft has landed on the largest, deepest and oldest far side of the Moon, compared with previous missions all reaching the Earth-facing side as it is easier to establish and maintain direct radio communication.
Chang’e 4 was launched on December 8 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China’s Sichuan province and then entered lunar orbit four days later, where it spent another few weeks preparing for touch down on the Von Kármán crater.
The crater is a relatively flat spot on the moon’s far side where there was no direct way to communicate with the spacecraft as it nears its target, until China put a relay satellite in the Moon’s orbit in May to solve the problem.
The successful landing of the Chang’e 4 spacecraft represents the completion of the second phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP). The program, also known as the Chang’e program, is an ongoing series of robotic Moon missions introduced by the CNSA, which is also one of the 16 key technologies underscored by the Chinese government.
According to the Chang’e program, China will launch a returnable spacecraft called Chang’e 5 by 2020 under the third and final phase of the plan. Chang’e 5 will include a lunar lander and a rover that can return to the Earth after collecting samples and performing lunar surveys.