A Chinese lunar rover has reportedly made history by landing on the far side of the moon and transmitting back the first images to Earth, Chinese state media announced this week. According to China’s National Space Administration, the Chang’e 4 probe landed in the moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin crater late Thursday evening, Beijing time. The probe reportedly made a “smooth [and] precise” landing, during an 11-minute descent. Once landed, it then deployed its 300-pound rover, named Yutu-2 or Jade Rabbit-2.
The fact that the lander is on the far side of the moon (sometimes inaccurately called the “dark side” of the moon) would ordinarily make it impossible to communicate with from Earth. This side of the moon never faces Earth as a result of the moon’s rotation. However, China is able to communicate with the rover due to a dedicated moon-orbiting satellite that it launched last year. The hope is that the lander will be able to carry out a number of experiments on the moon, including looking for signs of water at the poles, among other tests.
“China is on the road to become a strong space nation,” Wu Weiren, the chief designer for the lunar mission, told China Central Television. “And this marks one of the milestone events of building a strong space nation.”
The Chang’e 4 craft lifted off from the Sichuan province’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center on December 8. It then entered the Moon’s orbit several days later. Its successful relaying of images to Earth marks a significant achievement for both China’s space program and humankind’s exploration of space.
Following the landing, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine celebrated the achievement on Twitter, writing: “Congratulations to China’s Chang’e-4 team for what appears to be a successful landing on the far side of the moon. This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!”
Despite the achievement, the landing was not reported live on Chinese television, but rather after the fact — possibly due to the challenge involved and the possibility that things would not go exactly as planned. Fortunately, on this occasion, there seems to have been nothing to worry about.