Jan. 5 (UPI) — A spacecraft has landed on the far side of the moon for the first time, China’s National Space Administration announced Thursday.
The rover Chang’e-4, which is named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology, landed at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, which is an impact crater, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The United States and the Soviet Union have made a “soft landing” on the moon — China landed a rover there in 2013 — but no other country has touched down on the dark side of the moon, which always faces away from the Earth.
With no direct way to communicate with the spacecraft from the moon, China put a relay satellite in orbit around the moon in May.
On Dec. 8, the spacecraft lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province and entered the moon’s orbit four days later, according to Chinese state media.
The craft, which is 5 feet long and about 3.3 feet wide and tall, made its final descent from a landing orbit 9.3 miles above the moon’s surface.
“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,” Tongjie Liu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center for the China National Space Administration, told CNN.
The U.S. Congress has banned NASA from working with China on space exploration because of national security concerns.
“A high percentage of space technology is [civilian-military] dual use,” Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College told CNN. “The U.S. sees pretty much everything China does in space — including things the U.S. has done in space — as threatening.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine praised the achievement.
“Congratulations to China’s Chang’e-4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the moon,” he posted on Twitter. “This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!”