Science

The incredible science behind China's moon landing

On Thursday morning The China National Space Administration confirmed touchdown on the dark side of the Moon - the first time any nation has achieved the feat - and transmitted the first-ever close range image from the surface.

Since signals from Earth can't directly reach the far side of the moon - and vice versa - communication between CNSA and Chang'e-4 and the rover relies on a relay satellite dubbed Queqiao.

Months back, China launched relay satellites that help the lander and rover to remain in contact with its handlers on Earth despite not being in direct line-of-sight.

China has landed a robot on the far side of the moon - a first for any space agency. The Chang'e-4 probe which has already sent back its first close-up pictures from the surface is carrying instruments to analyse the unexplored region's geology and will conduct biological experiments.

The spacecraft is largely a clone of Chang'e-3, which landed on the moon in 2013.

Space programs in the United States and the former Soviet Union made intense efforts at lunar exploration in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

As CNN noted, the Chinese space program's last lander, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), went out of operation in 2016 after making history as the first spacecraft from a nation other than the US or Russian Federation to make a lunar landing. The mission is being handled by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), which is hoping to explore the moon's South Pole-Aitken basin.

Today's successful landing of the Chang'e-4 probe is being hailed as a major milestone in China's mission to rival the United States and Russian Federation in the field of space exploration.

A crewed lunar mission is also under consideration.

The chosen landing site, Von Karman crater, is in the north of the SPA basin about half way between the south pole and the equator, and punches a little deeper than the surrounding basin floor. The far side of the moon has great promise as a place to study the cosmos using radio waves because it removes a large amount of interference that Earth-bound and orbiting telescopes suffer from.

The landing appears to have been accomplished without any major issues, however, and the Chinese lander and rover will be able to begin exploring the moon's far side, an environment astronauts and spacecraft have until today only seen from afar.

Lunar far (left) and near (right) sides.

Landing on the "dark side" of the moon isn't just about exploration, but also about the potential resources that may support life as Earth's resources deplete. Its space program suffered a rare setback past year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.

Not only does is position China as a space superpower in the eyes of the the rest of the world, but it also marks a landmark achievement in Earth's space exploration history. "And we're gradually realizing it".



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