Chinese rover leaves first-ever ‘footprint’ on dark side of moon

An artist's impression of the moon lander for China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe

For the first time in history, a spacecraft has landed on the far side of the moon.

China's lunar rover has left the first-ever "footprint" on the far side of the moon, officials said Friday, hours after the robotic spacecraft successfully soft-landed on the mysterious and previously unexplored region of the Earth's satellite.

A Long March 3B rocket carrying Chang'e 4 blasted off on December 8 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China. China plans to send the Chang'e-5 probe next year to collect samples and bring them back, which hasn't been done since the then-Soviet Union's mission, The Associated Press reports.

The pioneering achievement is another demonstration of China's ambitions to be a space power.

"I think this is very good evidence that we are now able to compete with the Americans", said energy company employee Yao Dajun.

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

The far side of the moon is still a relative mystery and communication is hard because it always points away from Earth and this means signals can be blocked.

"There are two weeks of daylight and two weeks of night on every spot on the lunar surface", Charlie Duke, the Lunar Module pilot on the Apollo 16 mission, told Space.com.

In 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States, and in 2017 it said it was preparing to send a person to the moon.

China was the first to complete a "soft landing", without damage, on the far side of the moon. The country last night was able to successfully land its Chang'e-4 spacecraft on the part of the moon that Earth can not see and no other spacecraft has reached before.

The far side of the moon, because it faces away from Earth, isn't polluted by radio "noise" from our planet. Previous missions to the earth-facing side of the lunar surface by the ESA and India have been described as "controlled crashes".

Lunar project chief designer Wu Weiren called the separation of the rover "a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation".

His team analyzed a huge amount of lunar remote sensing data from multiple sources and created high-precision and high-resolution topographic models of the northwestern South Pole-Aitken basin, where Chang'e-4 landed at noon on Thursday Beijing time.

The China National Space Administration said the 10:26 a.m. touchdown of the Chang'e 4 craft has "opened up a new chapter in human lunar exploration".

The far side's terrain is rugged with a multitude of impact craters.

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