China lands spacecraft on the far side of the moon - a historic first | Eurasia Diary - ednews.net

16 January, Wednesday


China lands spacecraft on the far side of the moon - a historic first

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In a first for the world, the Chinese National Space Agency successfully landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon Thursday, a state broadcaster reported.

The probe, named Chang’e 4, launched in early December — the latest in a series of missions aimed at exploring the moon and paving the way for Chinese astronauts to eventually land on the lunar surface. The country plans to launch a sample return mission to the moon later this year.

Though the United States and Russia have also operated robotic spacecraft on the moon, Chang’e 4 is the first to land on the side of the satellite that always faces away from the Earth. The geology on this side of the moon is distinctive, with more craters and less evidence of volcanic activity. But it’s difficult to explore, because scientists on Earth can’t communicate via direct radio signal with spacecraft in this remote region.

Chang’e 4 includes a lander, a rover and satellite that can relay signals to Earth — allowing the Chinese National Space Agency to communicate with their spacecraft. The mission, which is mainly scientific, will explore a giant impact crater near the South Pole, using cameras, ground-penetrating radar and spectrometers to understand the composition of the area.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated China in a tweet Wednesday night, writing, “this is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment."

China was tight-lipped about the mission in the run-up to the landing; it did not announce beforehand when it would attempt to land the spacecraft. U.S. law effectively prohibits official collaboration between the American and Chinese space programs.

But the landing demonstrates China’s ambitions to become a space power and scientific force. The country spends more on scientific research than any nation but the U.S., and a recent report predicted that the country would pull into first place this year.

The Washington Post

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