China makes history by landing the first craft ever on the hidden side of the moon

China lunar landing 1

It’s a world first. China succeeded on Thursday the unprecedented lunar landing of a craft on the far side of the moon, a historic event that reinforces Beijing’s space ambitions.

The Chang’e-4 module, which left Earth on December 8, landed at 10:26 am Beijing time (9:26 pm Eastern Time) and sent a photo of the lunar surface said the Chinese space agency.

Unlike the face of the Moon closest to the Earth, which is still facing our planet, no probe or exploration module had yet touched the ground on the other side. This one, mountainous and uneven, is strewn with craters.

“We achieved an extremely accurate result. The moon landing went smoothly, and in an ideal place, “said Sun Zezhou, chief engineer of the Chang’e-4 mission (named after the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology), on state television CCTV.

For years, China has been preparing for this particularly difficult operation from the technological point of view.

One of the challenges is to be able to communicate with the small remote-controlled robot deposited on the surface of the Moon on Thursday: the hidden face is always oriented in the opposite direction to the Earth, there is no direct “line of sight” to transmit signals except by installing a relay .

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China had launched in May a satellite called Queqia, positioned in lunar orbit to relay orders and data exchanged between the Earth and the module.

China lunar landing 3

The exploratory probe Chang’e 4, as it takes off on December 8, 2018. Photo: The Associated Press / Jiang Hongjing

The remote-controlled robot will have to evolve in an extreme environment, where temperatures range from -173 to +127 degrees. And to compound the difficulty, the Chang’e-4 mission takes place in a region of the south pole of the lunar body, the Aitken basin, whose terrain is complex and steep.

In particular, the robot must carry out studies on radio low frequencies, mineral resources and the cultivation of tomatoes and other plants.

“The information collected will also serve the future lunar base that Beijing wants to build, as well as scientific activities on the far side of the moon,” said Chen Lan, an analyst for GoTaikonauts.com, a website specializing in Chinese space program.

It will also serve China’s future mission to Mars, scheduled for 2020. In 2021, the country hopes to land on Mars a similar robot to Chang’e 4. This is a good opportunity to test this technology.

This is the second time that the Asian giant has sent a machine to explore the moon after the small motorized robot Yutu (“Jade Bunny”) in 2013. The latter remained active for 31 months, on the visible side of the moon.

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China invests billions in its space program, led by the military. It places satellites in orbit, on its behalf (earth observation, telecommunications, Beidou geolocation system) or for other countries. China also hopes to send humans to the moon.

The Asian giant also unveiled in November a replica of its first major space station (“Heaven Palace”) which should be operational around 2022. It should become the only station to evolve in space after the retirement scheduled in 2024 of the ISS – which associates the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.

“We are making of China a space power. And in this process, we can say that today’s event is particularly important and symbolic,” Wu Weiren, chief engineer of China’s lunar exploration program, said Thursday.

But Beijing still has a long way to go to catch up with the United States in terms of space, says Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based professor specializing in international relations.

“The American Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon more than 50 years ago. For now, no Chinese has arrived yet.

Eid Lee

Eid is a freelance journalist from California. He covers different topics for The Talking Democrat but focuses mostly on technology and science.