China becomes first to land spacecraft on 'dark' side of moon
The Chinese National Space Administration on January 4, 2018 became the first space agency in the world to land its moon lander, Chang'e 4 craft, on the dark side of the moon that faces away from the Earth.
With the touchdown, Chang'e 4 craft opened up a new chapter in human lunar exploration. China previously landed its Chang'e 3 craft in December 2013 on the near side of the moon, which faces the Earth. Before China, two nations - the United States, the former Soviet Union have sent spacecraft to the near side of the moon.
The current landing is the first-ever on the far side of the moon.
• The relatively unexplored far side of the moon has a different composition than the near side, where previous missions have landed.
• Chang'e 4, a combined lander and rover, will make astronomical observations and probe the structure and mineral composition of the terrain above and below the surface.
• The landing highlights China's growing ambitions to rival the US, Russia and Europe in space and more broadly, to cement the nation's position as a regional and global power.
• In 2013, Chang'e 3, the predecessor craft to the current mission, made the first moon landing since the former Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976.
• The United States is the only country that has successfully sent a person to the moon, though China is considering a crewed mission too.
• China now plans to send a Chang'e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples, a feat that has not been done since the Soviet mission in 1976.
Why China landed its rover on the far side of the moon?
Explaining the same, the mission's spokesperson Yu Guobin said that the far side of the moon is a rare quiet place that is free from interference from radio signals from Earth.
The probe will help fill the gap of low-frequency observation in radio astronomy and will provide important information for studying the origin of stars and nebula evolution.
A major challenge of operating on the far side of the moon would be communicating back with the Earth.
Hence, China launched a relay satellite in May so that Chang'e 4 can send back information.
China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming only the third country to do so after Russia and the United States of America.
It has put a pair of space stations into orbit and plans to launch a Mars rover in the mid-2020s.
Its space program suffered a rare setback last year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.