First probe lands on moon’s ‘dark’ side

Break­through opens new page in his­tory of space ex­plo­ration

China Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHAO LEI zhaolei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A new chap­ter opened in mankind’s ex­plo­ration of the moon on Thurs­day morn­ing as the first probe to land on the moon’s far side reached its des­ti­na­tion af­ter a 26-day jour­ney.

The Chang’e 4 lu­nar probe, rep­re­sent­ing China’s lat­est step in lu­nar in­ves­ti­ga­tion, landed at 10:26 am at the Von Kar­man crater in the South Pole-Aitken basin and then sent back three pho­tos of the land­ing site shot by cam­eras on the probe’s lan­der, mark­ing the world’s first im­ages taken on the sur­face of the far side.

One of the pho­tos, pub­lished by the China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion, shows the place where Chang’e 4’s rover, which was named Yutu 2 on Thurs­day night, will be head­ing to ex­plore and sur­vey.

Thus be­gan the first ex­pe­di­tion to the side of the moon that faces away from the Earth. It is meant to ful­fill sci­en­tists’ long-held as­pi­ra­tion to closely ob­serve the lesser known re­gion.

Tidal forces on Earth slow the moon’s ro­ta­tion to the point that the same side al­ways faces Earth. Most of the far side is never vis­i­ble from Earth.

While it has been ex­ten­sively pho­tographed by space­craft, start­ing with a So­viet probe in 1959, no probe had ever made a soft land­ing there, so sci­en­tists had not been able to con­duct sur­face-level ob­ser­va­tions and sur­veys of the re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to the China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Chang’e 4’s land­ing pro­ce­dure started at 10:15 am, when it be­gan its de­scent from an or­bit 15 kilo­me­ters above the sur­face, fol­low­ing con­trol sig­nals from the Bei­jing Aero­space Con­trol Cen­ter trans­mit­ted through China’s Que­qiao re­lay satel­lite.

The probe made po­si­tion ad­just­ments when it reached 6 to 8 kilo­me­ters above the moon. The de­scent then paused at about 100 me­ters above the sur­face as the space­craft an­a­lyzed the gra­di­ent of the pre­set land­ing site as well as any pos­si­ble ob­sta­cles in order to avoid haz­ards.

Af­ter an ex­act land­ing area was de­ter­mined, Chang’e 4 re­sumed its de­scent at a slow ve­loc­ity and fi­nally touched down, the ad­min­is­tra­tion said in a state­ment.

Shortly after­ward, the probe un­folded its so­lar ar­rays and an­ten­nas and es­tab­lished a high-speed data link through Que­qiao, it said.

Wu Weiren, chief de­signer of China’s lu­nar pro­gram, said in Bei­jing on Thurs­day af­ter the land­ing that the de­scent and land­ing “were per­fect”.

He called the event “an im­por­tant mile­stone for China’s space ex­plo­ration”, adding that it has made a good start for fu­ture lu­nar ex­plo­ration ef­forts.

With its in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the far side, par­tic­u­larly the Von Kar­man crater, the Chang’e 4 mis­sion will en­able sci­en­tists to find out what they haven’t known about the moon and deepen their knowl­edge of its early his­tory and of the so­lar sys­tem.

Re­searchers also can use the far side’s shield against Earth’s in­ter­fer­ence to make clearer ob­ser­va­tions into deep space, sci­en­tists ex­pect.

Zhang He, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Chang’e 4 pro­gram at the China Academy of Space Tech­nol­ogy, said, “As there had been no probe on the far side be­fore us, all sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion ob­tained by the Chang’e 4 will be new to the world.”

Next, Chang’e 4 will start test­ing and fine-tun­ing its equip­ment un­der con­trol from the Bei­jing Aero­space Con­trol Cen­ter and will wait for suitable con­di­tions to re­lease its rover, of­fi­cials said.

Chang’e 4 was launched atop a Long March 3B car­rier rocket on Dec 8 at the Xichang Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter in Sichuan prov­ince.

De­vel­oped by the China Academy of Space Tech­nol­ogy, the probe has two parts: a lan­der and a rover. It is the fourth lu­nar probe China has launched since the coun­try’s lu­nar pro­gram be­gan in 2004.

JIN LIWANG / XIN­HUA

Sci­en­tists who helped guide the Chang’e 4 probe’s soft land­ing on the moon’s far side cel­e­brate the his­toric event at the Bei­jing Aero­space Con­trol Cen­ter on Thurs­day.

XIN­HUA

The first close-up im­age ever taken of the far side’s sur­face, pho­tographed by the lu­nar lan­der, shows the route planned for the rover.

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