China has successfully landed a rover on the the moon, the Chinese state media announced today. It’s seen as a huge milestone for the nation as it attempts to position itself as a leading space power.
China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) landed the rover officially named Chang’e 4 in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the moon’s largest and oldest impact crater.
The designer of the probe called it a “precise” and “smooth” landing on the surface of the moon.
The Chinese state media reported the rover transmitted back the first close range image of the far side of the moon. Six hours after touchdown, the rover will descend from the lander onto the surface of the moon.
The far side of the moon is the hemisphere that never faces earth, due to the moon’s rotation. As the satellite faces away from earth it’s free from radio wave frequencies. Meaning it will not be possible for the rover to communicate directly with ground control on earth. To overcome this China launched a dedicated satellite orbiting the moon to relay information from the rover to earth.
The lunar craft lifted off from China’s launch site on the 8th of December 2018, and entered moon’s orbit four days later.
The CNSA hopes that the lander conducts the first lunar low-frequency radio astronomy experiment, observe whether plants will grow in the low-gravity environment, and explore whether there is water or other resources at the poles.
Another function of the mission is to study the interaction between solar winds and the moon surface using a new rover.
The Chang’e 4 rover is 1.5 meters (5 feet) long and about 1 meter (3.3 feet) wide and tall, with two foldable solar panels and six wheels.
Beijing plans to launch its first Mars probe around 2020 to carry out orbital and rover exploration. Followed by a mission to collect samples from the red planet. China aims to have a fully functioning space station by 2022.
Washington sees China’s space motives as a threat, so it plans to establish a US space force by the year 2020. United States ordered NASA to stop working with China due to national security concerns.
NASA’s budget was significantly cut after Trump took over, there is an uncertainty on the operations of the International Space Station (ISS) due to funding and political complications.