BEIJING: A Chinese lunar rover landed on the far side of the moon on Thursday, in a global first that boosts Beijing’s ambitions to become a space superpower, reports AFP.
The Chang’e-4 probe touched down and sent a photo of the so-called “dark side” of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, which will relay communications to controllers on Earth, China’s national space agency said on its website.
The Chang’e-4 lunar probe mission—named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology—launched in December from the southwestern Xichang launch centre. It is the second Chinese probe to land on the moon, following the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) rover mission in 2013.
Unlike the near side of the moon that offers many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is mountainous and rugged. The moon is “tidally locked” to Earth in its rotation so the same side is always facing Earth.
Chang’e-4 is carrying six experiments from China and four from abroad, including low-frequency radio astronomical studies—aiming to take advantage of the lack of interference on the moons’ far side.
The rover will also conduct mineral and radiation tests, the China National Space Administration has said.
“It’s a very good start,” said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV. “We are now building China into an aerospace power.”
It is among a slew of ambitious Chinese targets, which include a reusable launcher by 2021, a super-powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads heavier than those NASA and private rocket firm SpaceX can handle, a moon base, a permanently crewed space station, and a Mars rover.
The People’s Liberation Army “looks at space as a new strategic high ground,” said Michael Raska, who studies security and defence issues at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
An increased presence in space will be vital for “anything for early warning, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting... nearly every military mission out there is relying on some sort of space capability.”
But China’s aerospace industry still has a long way to go, especially compared to that of the US, said Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based international studies scholar.