Beijing: China’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe on Thursday became the first spacecraft to make a soft landing on the far side of the Moon in a significant milestone for the nation as it attempts to position itself as a leading space power.
The probe, comprising a lander and a rover, touched down at the pre-selected landing area at 177.6 degrees east longitude and 45.5 degrees south latitude on the far side of the Moon at 10.26 a.m. (Beijing Time), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) was cited as saying by Xinhua news agency.
The Global Times said the space probe landed in the South Pole-Aitken basin of the Moon and called it “a major breakthrough in human exploration of the Universe”.
With the communication assistance of the relay satellite Queqiao, the probe sent back the first-ever close-up photograph of the Moon’s far side, opening a new chapter in lunar exploration.
The mission will perform low frequency radio astronomical observation, terrain and relief analysis, detection of mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure, the measurement of neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the hidden side of the Moon.
The probe will also try to explore the Von Kármán crater, located within the much larger South Pole-Aitken basin, thought to have been formed by a giant impact early in the Moon’s history.
“China is on the road to become a strong space nation. And this marks one of the milestone events of building a strong space nation,” chief designer for the lunar mission, Wu Weiren, told CCTV.
“It is a perfect display of human intelligence,” said Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e-4 probe, from the China Academy of Space Technology.
There have been numerous missions to the Moon in recent years, but the vast majority had been to orbit, fly by or impact. The last manned landing was Apollo 17 in 1972.
The Chang’e-4 was launched by a Long March 3B carrier rocket on December 8 from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province. Four days later, Chang’e 4 entered the lunar orbit.
Communications between the probe and control stations on Earth will take place with the help of the Queqiao satellite.
The programme Chang’e (named in honour of a goddess who, according to Chinese legend, lives on the Moon) began with the launch of the first orbital probe in 2007. Four devices have been sent to the Moon since.
The programme intends to send a manned mission to the Moon in the long term and although no deadline has been set, some experts indicated it may be around 2036.
Many lunar orbiters have shown the Moon’s two sides are very different. The near side is relatively flat, while the far side is thickly dotted with impact craters of different sizes. However, the reality is still a mystery, and only on site exploration will reveal the truth.