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January 03, 2019 15:47:22

In a case of Star Trek meets reality, the Chinese National Space Agency has gone where no man — or spacecraft — has gone before, landing a lunar explorer on the far side of the Moon.

Key points:

  • China becomes the first country to complete a soft landing on the Moon’s far side
  • The Chang’e 4 will investigate the Moon’s potential to support future space travellers
  • The mission is part of China’s ambitious push to explore the Moon’s resources

It is the first time a soft landing has been performed on the Moon’s far side — also known as the dark side because it faces away from earth and remains comparatively unknown — due to challenges relaying signals.

Chang’e Moon missions

  • Chang’e 1: China’s first lunar mission launched in 2007. It orbited the Moon and created a topographical map of the surface
  • Chang’e 2: A second orbiting mission in 2011 to scout for future landing sites as well as take high-resolution photos
  • Chang’e 3: First unmanned Moon landing of the Chang’e effort. The lander with Jade Rabbit touched down in 2013, making it the first soft landing on the Moon since 1976. Despite some technical issues, the rover functioned until 2016 when it was officially declared dead
  • Chang’e 4: China’s current mission to explore and research the far side of the Moon
  • Chang’e 5: Future mission slated for 2019 to collect and return lunar rocks and soil

The Chang’e 4 spacecraft touched down at 10:26am local time, the official China Central Television said.

Chang’e 4 is a lander-rover combination and will explore both above and below the lunar surface.

Some of the experiments aboard will investigate the Moon’s potential to support future space travellers.

One of those experiments is a biosphere project, which includes silkworm eggs, thale cress and potato seeds.

If it goes to plan, the ecosystem would be self-sustaining, with the silkworms germinating the potatoes and popping out caterpillars. These would in turn produce carbon dioxide, helping the plants grow as a food source.

Because the far side faces away from Earth, it is also shielded from radio transmissions — making it the perfect place from which to study the universe.

The mission is part of China’s ambitious push to explore the Moon’s resources and potential as a space base.

China landed its Yutu, or ‘Jade Rabbit’ rover on the Moon five years ago and plans to have Chang’e 5 return to earth with samples — the first time that will have been done since 1976.

A crewed lunar mission is also under consideration.

ABC/AP

Topics:

astronomy-space,

science-and-technology,

the-moon,

space-exploration,

spacecraft,

china

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