A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, state media said.

The lunar explorer Chang'e 4 touched down at 10:26 a.m. local time, China Central Television said in a brief announcement at the top of its noon news broadcast.

The far side of the moon faces away from Earth and is relatively unexplored. It is also known as the dark side of the moon.

The pioneering landing demonstrates China's growing ambitions as a space power. In 2013, Chang-e 3 was the first spacecraft to land on the moon since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976.

The mission of Chang'e 4, which is carrying a rover, includes carrying out low-frequency radio astronomical observations and probing the structure and mineral composition of the terrain.

The Long March 3B rocket carrying Chang-e 4 blasted off on Dec. 8 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China.

In May, a relay satellite "Queqiao," or "Magpie Bridge," named after an ancient Chinese folk tale, was launched to provide communications support between Chang-e 4 and Earth.

China plans to send its Chang-e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples — the first time that will have been done since 1976.

Fifty years ago last month, the United States' Apollo 8 first orbited the moon, and in 1969, Apollo 11 landed and explored the surface.

The New York Times reported:

Although a latecomer by decades to space exploration, China is quickly catching up, experts say, and could challenge the United States for supremacy in artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other fields.

China now plans to begin fully operating its third space station by 2022, to put astronauts in a lunar base by later in that decade, and to send probes to Mars, including ones that could return samples of the Martian surface back to Earth.

Though the moon is hardly untrodden ground after decades of exploration, a new landing is far more than just a propaganda coup, experts say.

The crater where the Chinese landed is the oldest and deepest on the moon, so the probe’s discoveries may offer insights into the moon’s origins and evolution. And some scientists suspect that the surrounding basin may be rich in minerals. If exploiting the moon’s resources is the next step in space development, a successful mission could leave the Chinese better positioned.

The Associated Press added:

The landing came a day after NASA's New Horizons spacecraft pulled off the most distant exploration of another world, skimming past a tiny, icy object 4 billion miles from Earth that looks to be shaped like a bowling pin.

Flight controllers in Maryland declared success 10 hours after the high-risk, middle-of-the-night encounter at the mysterious body known as Ultima Thule on the frozen fringes of our solar system, an astounding 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto.

The observations should help scientists ascertain how deep-freeze objects like Ultima Thule formed, along with the rest of the solar system, 4.5 billion years ago.

As a preserved relic from that original time, Ultima Thule also promises to shed light on the so-called Kuiper Belt, or Twilight Zone, in which hundreds of thousands of objects reside well beyond Neptune.

This story will be updated.

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