Jan. 7 (UPI) — China’s Chang’e-4 lander-rover spacecraft has landed on the moon’s far side — the first in history. The spacecraft, which launched in early December, touched down late Wednesday night.
“Congratulations to China’s Chang’e-4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the Moon,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote on Twitter. “This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!”
In the coming months, the lander-rover will conduct scientific observations across the less-understood side of the moon. Scientists hope the observations will offer new insights into the satellite’s makeup, as well as its formation and evolution.
Because the moon is tidally locked with Earth, the same half always faces Earth. Despite the moniker, the dark side of the moon does receive sunlight. The far side of the moon is heavily cratered and hosts one of the largest craters in the solar system, the South Pole-Aitken basin.
One of the challenges of exploring the far side of the moon is communication. Chang’e-4 can’t communicate directly with mission scientists back on Earth.
In May, China launched Queqiao, a satellite that will help relay the rover’s communication. The satellite is positioned in a stable orbit around Earth that keeps both mission control and Chang’e-4 within its sight lines.
The record-breaking lander-rover is outfitted with a variety of instruments, including several cameras, spectrometers, a radar system and a dosimeter. The spacecraft’s instrument suite will allow Chang’e-4 to measure the mineral composition of the moon’s far side.
China launched more rockets in 2018 than all other global space agencies, and some analysts see their latest feat as another symbol of their growing power and influence — an influence that extends into space.
“There’s a lot of geopolitics or astropolitics about this — it’s not just a scientific mission — this is all about China’s rise as a superpower,” Malcolm Davis, senior analyst in defense strategy and capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told the Guardian. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the space program in China. There’s a lot of nationalism in China — they see China’s role in space as a key part of their rise.”