Five years after successfully landing its first rover on the moon, China’s space program took another giant leap forward on Thursday when it became the first to successfully land a lunar probe on the dark side of the moon (the side of the celestial body that perpetually faces away from the Earth).
According to Bloomberg, the Chang’e-4 lunar probe, named after the mythical Moon Goddess, landed at 10:26 am in Beijing and started transmitting the first pictures of the dark side of the moon’s surface. The probe had been circling the moon in an elliptical orbit since Sunday, after leaving the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Dec. 8.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) January 3, 2019
The landing marks the capstone of China’s plan to establish itself as one of the world’s top three aerospace powers by 2030. With a budget of $8 billion, China is second only to the US in terms of space-program spending. Furthermore, the landing is a moment of national pride during a turbulent time when China’s economy is faltering amid a trade war with the US and burgeoning bad debts in the country’s corporate sector.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated China on the accomplishment.
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! pic.twitter.com/JfcBVsjRC8
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) January 3, 2019
Because of the lack of electromagnetic interference on the dark side of the moon, the Chang’e-4 will be able to use low-frequency radio spectrometry to help scientists understand “how the earliest stars were ignited and how our cosmos emerged from darkness after the Big Bang.”
The probe will also perform several experiments including determining whether plants will grow in the moon’s low gravity environment, exploring its poles in search of water and other resources and observing the interaction between solar winds and the lunar surface, according to RT.
The landing follows a successful launch back in May of a relay satellite called Queqiao that’s now orbiting about 280,000 miles fro Earth, where it can relay messages from the rover back to Earth.
When it comes to next steps, China is planning to launch its first Mars rover by the end of 2020, and is also planning to launch its own space station by 2022. Its ultimate aim is to build a lunar orbital platform and – eventually – to send astronauts to Mars.
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