China successfully landed the Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the moon this morning, Beijing time, according to state news agency Xinhua, becoming the first in history to touch the lunar surface unseen by those on Earth.
The Chang’e 4 mission launched in early December. It took the spacecraft three days to travel to the moon, where it spent the last few weeks in orbit preparing for touch down on the Von Karman crater. The crater is a relatively flat spot on the moon’s far side.
“China’s Chang’e-4 probe softlands on Moon’s far side,” the state news agency tweeted today.
Citing the China National Space Administration, Xinhua said the space probe, made up of a lander and a rover, “landed at the preselected landing area on the far side of the moon at 10:26 a.m. Beijing Time.”
Landing on the far side is a technical challenge, as there is no direct way to communicate with the spacecraft as it nears its target. China put a relay satellite in orbit around the moon in May to overcome that communication challenge.
The far side of the moon has been seen and mapped before, even by astronauts of the Apollo missions. But the successful landing of Chang’e 4 represents the first time any spacecraft has touched down on the moon’s far side.
Chang’e 4 represents one of the flagship parts of China’s heavy investment and growing capabilities in space through the China National Space Administration. This mission comes about two years after China’s successful Chang’e 3 mission, the first soft landing on the moon since 1976. Similar in design to that Chang’e 3 craft and its “Jade Rabbit” rover, the Chang’e 4 lander and rover carries a bigger payload and more capabilities. The space agency will use the craft to study geological conditions on the far side of the moon.
The Chang’e name comes from the Chinese goddess of the moon. In the ancient tale, Chang’e died after taking an elixir. When she flew to the heavens, she landed on the moon as her final resting place.