BEIJING – China made history in space exploration on Thursday when its spacecraft made soft landing on the side of the moon that is never visible from earth, a feat no other country has achieved so far.
The successful landing of the probe, called Chang’e-4, is an important milestone in China’s ambitions to be one of the major space powers in the world in view of its future manned lunar landing plans.
State-run Global Times said it was “a major breakthrough in human exploration of the universe,” after the probe compromising of a lander and a rover touched down at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time in the South Pole-Aitken Basin’s Von Karman Crater.
China’s National Space Administration said the probe landed on the far side of the moon after Beijing Aerospace Control Center gave the command at 10:15 a.m. and the spacecraft began its descent from the nearest point of its orbit at 15 kilometers from the moon.
“It’s an important milestone for China’s space exploration,” said Wu Weiren, chief designer of Chinese lunar exploration program, according to Xinhua.
Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e-4 probe, described the achievement as “a perfect display of human intelligence.”
CNSA said the probe landed in a plain, surrounded by 10-kilometer high mountains.
Zhang He, executive director of the Chang’e-4 probe project, said the vertical descent strategy was chosen “to avoid the influence of the mountains on the flight track.”
The new landing is expected to unravel mysteries of the far side of the moon and also new insights into the moon’s origins.
“The soft landing and exploration of the far side, which has never been done before, will gain first-hand information about the terrain and lunar soil components and other scientific data, which will help enrich our understanding of the moon and the universe,” said Zhang.
The mission will perform low frequency radio astronomical observation, terrain and relief analysis, detection of mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure, and the measurement of neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the hidden side, according to Xinhua.
The probe is also expected to cultivate vegetables and flower in an airtight container as part of a series of biological experiments designed by 28 universities of China.
Chang’e-4 was launched by a Long March 3B carrier rocket on Dec. 8 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province.
The program Chang’e (named in honor of a goddess who, according to Chinese mythology, lives on the moon) began with the launch of the first orbital probe in 2007. Four devices have been sent to the moon since.
China intends to send a manned mission to the moon in the long term, and although no deadline has been set, some experts have indicated it may be around 2036.