Chinese probe Chang’e 4 lands on dark side of moon: state media

A Chinese probe has made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, according to state media, in a groundbreaking mission in space exploration.

The unmanned Chang’e 4 lunar lander and rover spacecraft touched down at 10:26am (02:26 GMT) on Thursday, China Central Television said in a brief announcement.

It relayed a photo of the “dark side” of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, which will relay communications between controllers on Earth and the far side of the moon.

The far side faces away from Earth and is relatively unexplored. 

The probe is carrying a robot vehicle that is to explore both above and below the lunar surface after arriving at the South Pole-Aitken basin’s Von Karman crater. 

It is also equipped with a panorama camera and measuring devices to conduct experiments.

It will perform radio-astronomical studies that, because the far side always faces away from Earth, will be “free from interference from our planet’s ionosphere, human-made radio frequencies and auroral radiation noise”, according to space industry expert Leonard David.

China’s space programme has benefited from cooperation with Russia and European countries, although it was excluded from the 420-tonne International Space Station, mainly due to US concerns over transfer of technology that could be used for military purposes.

Its programme also suffered a rare setback last year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, making it only the third country after Russia and the US to do so.

It has put a pair of space stations into orbit, one of which is still operating as a precursor to a more than 60-tonne station that is due to come online in 2022. The launch of a Mars rover is planned for the mid-2020s.

Dark side

The moon’s far side is also known as the dark side because it faces away from Earth and remains comparatively unknown.

It has a different composition than sites on the near side, where previous missions have landed.

The United States sent 12 astronauts between 1969 and 1972 to the Earth’s satellite.

The first Soviet probe, Luna 24, landed there in 1976. It wasn’t followed until 2013, when the first Chinese probe, the Chang’e 3, landed.

China plans to send its Chang’e 5 probe there next year and have it return to Earth with samples – the first time that will have been done since 1976. A crewed lunar mission is also under consideration.

In 2015, NASA, the US space agency, released an animation that shows satellite images of the far side of the moon.

NASA says the images show the moon illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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