China Lands First Spacecraft on far side of the moon

China on Thursday became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon with the goal of unlocking the mysteries of the lunar surface region that never faces Earth, including how the moon formed billions of years ago.

Scientists at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center landed the Chang’e 4 robotic spacecraft, named for the Chinese goddess of the moon, in the Von Kármán crater and sent back the first images from the surface of the region tidally locked facing away from Earth.

The China National Space Administration relayed those images to Earth through the Queqiao satellite in lunar orbit because radio signals cannot be sent directly. That radio silence on the far side of the moon enables scientists to use the Low Frequency Spectrometer on the lander to track wavelengths from deep space without interference from the millions of signals broadcast by humans.

An image taken by the China National Space Administration with a camera on the Chang’e 4 of the Von Karman crater landing area, where scientists will send the Yutu 2 rover to explore.

The next step is for scientists from the China Academy of Space Technology, which developed the lander, to observe the landing area in preparation to roll the Yutu 2 rover off the Chang’e 4 and begin exploring the surface. The landing area in the South Pole-Aitken basin is the site of ancient impacts that are expected to have blasted rocks from deep beneath its mantle. Spectrometers and radar on the lander and rover will scan the geology of the area for clues about how the moon formed.

The Yutu rover was named by an online poll after the pet rabbit of the moon goddess Chang’e, and after the first rover of that name which arrived on the lunar surface during the Chang’e 3 robotic lander mission in 2013.

The China National Space Administration plans to follow this mission with a Chang’e 5 robotic lander later this year to return a sample from the lunar surface. China also aims to send humans to land on the moon around 2030, Xinhua reports.

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