China begins first surface exploration of moon's far side

China begins first surface exploration of moon's far side

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.

A major challenge for such a mission was communicating with the robotic lander, because there is no direct line of sight for signals to the far side of the moon.

At 9:26 p.m. EST on January 2, 2019 (2:26 a.m. GMT, 10:26 a.m. Beijing Time on January 3), China National Space Administration's Chang'e-4 lunar probe touched down on the far side of the Moon, becoming the first spacecraft to successfully soft-land on the Moon's side never visible from Earth.

The event was captured by the camera on the lander and the images were sent back to the Earth via the relay satellite "Queqiao", China's Xinhua state news agency reported.

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The Jade Rabbit 2 rover has six wheels that all have power, so it can continue to operate even if one wheel fails. It has a maximum speed of 0.1 miles per hour and can climb a 20-degree hill or mount an obstacle up to 8 inches tall, the report said. Legend has it that Chang'e, after swallowing a magic pill, took her pet and flew toward the moon where she became a goddess and has lived with the white jade rabbit ever since.

The rover and lander are carrying instruments to analyse the unexplored region's geology.

Because the moon is tidally locked with Earth, the same half always faces Earth. The far side can't be seen from Earth and is popularly called the "dark side" because it is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight. It may hold clues to the moon's origins, prove rich in minerals, and possibly serve as a "future refueling base for missions deeper into space". With the help of ground-penetrating radar, it will allow scientists to study the moon's mysterious "dark side", how its surface interacts with solar wind, and perhaps the process behind the formation of lunar water.

Chang'e-4 includes two main parts: the main lander weighing about 1,088 pounds and a 136-kilogramme rover.

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