Chinese spacecraft makes first landing on moon's far side


China's Chang'e 4 spacecraft has touched down on the Moon, state media reports, making it the first-ever probe to set down on the far side of Earth's natural satellite.

The lunar explorer Chang'e 4 touched down at 10:26 am and relayed a photo of the "dark side" of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, the official China Central Television reported on Thursday.

China's Chang'e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon Thursday, becoming the first spacecraft soft-landing on the moon's uncharted side that is never visible from Earth. Because of this "tidal locking", we only ever see one face of the moon, which we call the near side.

The lunar lander and rover spacecraft, which entered an elliptical lunar orbit Sunday morning, was poised to land in the Aitken Basin near the moon's south pole at around 8.45am.

A major challenge for such a mission was communicating with the robotic lander: as there is no direct "line of sight" for signals to the far side of the moon.

The probe intends to "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", Zhang He, executive director of the Chang'e-4 probe project, had said.

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The Chang'e-4 mission's lander will carry two cameras, a radiation experiment, and a spectrometer that will make radio astronomy observations of the lunar surface.

The move marks a global first that boosts Beijing's ambitions to become a space superpower, state media said.

Chang'e 4 was launched atop a Long March 3B carrier rocket on December 8 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwest China's Sichuan province.

And the new exploratory probe could return a whole host of valuable data: examining the geological make-up of the surface around the South Pole-Aitken basin, a part of the Moon we now know very little about.

The landing "lifted the mysterious veil" of the far side of the moon and "opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration", the agency said in a statement on its website, which included a wide-angle color picture of a crater from the moon's surface. In 2013, Chang'e 3, the predecessor craft to the current mission, made the first moon landing since the then-Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976.