Chinese probe lands on the far side of the moon

China's'Yutu 2 Chang'e-4 rover is now rolling on the far side of the Moon                
          by                     Andrew Jones

China's'Yutu 2 Chang'e-4 rover is now rolling on the far side of the Moon by Andrew Jones

New photos from China's space agency show its lunar rover leaving tracks on the far side of the moon, at the start of a historic exploration mission.

It delivered both a lander and a rover, while its Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) relay satellite "is operating in the halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system", Xinhua added.

While spacecraft have been able to take photographs of the far side of the Moon before, this is the first time we've ever managed to successfully land something on the surface: NASA's Ranger 4 probe touched down in 1962, but ended up malfunctioning and didn't send any data back.

Chief Engineer of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, Wu Weiren, said it is a step towards asserting China's dominance in outer space as well as on earth.

In 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States, and in 2017 it said it was preparing to send a person to the moon.

The touchdown marks the first soft landing on any part of the moon since the Soviet Luna 24 sample-return mission in 1976.

The rover's designer, Shen Zhenrong of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, described the far side of the moon's surface to the state broadcaster CCTV as "soft" and "similar to that when you are walking on the snow", the AP reported. And here we are, in 2018, with another Chinese space mission goal achieved as per the deadline set.

Close-up view of the wheel of the Chang'e-4 rover 'Yutu 2

Launched from Xichang in southwest China's Sichuan province on Dec 8, the spacecraft is on a mission to seek out what lies on this mysterious "dark side" of the Moon, which can not be seen from the Earth as the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth and rotates at the same rate that it orbits the Earth. Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia contributed payloads that will measure radiation and use low-frequency radio astronomy to listen for faint signals lingering in the cosmos since the formation of the universe's first stars, among other things.

Months back, China launched relay satellites that help the lander and rover to remain in contact with its handlers on Earth despite not being in direct line-of-sight.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming only the third country to do so after Russian Federation and the United States.

We've known for a long time about the CNSA's ambitions to get a probe landed on the far side of the Moon - and it has now made good on its promise.

The landing was "a big deal" because it used an engineering technique of the spacecraft itself choosing a safe place to touch down in treacherous terrain, something called autonomous hazard avoidance, said Purdue University lunar and planetary scientist Jay Melosh. Its space program suffered a rare setback past year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.

By Ken Moritsugu for the Associated Press, with additional reporting from The Diplomat.

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