For the first time, a space probe has landed on the back of the moon. The Chinese “Chang’e 4” successfully lands on the Earth satellite, as China’s state broadcaster CCTV reports.

Spacecraft have taken pictures of the moon’s far side before, but no lander has ever touched down there. The move marks a step towards China’s ambition to become a leading power in space exploration alongside the US and Russia.

There have been many excursions from spaceships and astronauts to the moon. But China is now the first nation to land on the side of the moon facing away from the earth. On board the “Chang’e 4” there is a robot vehicle, which is supposed to explore the terrain around the landing site in a next step.

Chinese experts had described the mission as very demanding in advance. A hurdle was the smooth communication with the earth because no direct radio connection can be established on the back of the moon. For this reason, the Chinese already positioned the “Queqiao” transmission satellite (Bridge of the Elsters) in May in order to be able to transmit signals from the radio shadow.

Sky Chang'e 4 Chinese Space Program
The first image of the moon’s far side taken by China’s Chang’e 4 probe, which touched down on Jan. 2, 2019 (Jan. 3 Beijing time).
Credit: CNSA

A smooth lunar mission should prove that China’s ambitious space programme is making great progress.

In 2019, China is planning another unmanned landing to return rock samples to Earth. By 2030, the first Chinese is to set foot on the earth’s satellite. The lunar missions are only one part of China’s ambitious space programme, which also envisages the construction of a space station around 2022.

“Chang’e 4” was launched from Earth on 8 December and, according to state television, reached moon orbit on 12 December. With “Chang’e 3”, the Chinese first landed a probe on the front of the Earth’s satellite in 2013 – far later than Russians and Americans. After unmanned probes between 1969 and 1972, the USA had also brought twelve astronauts to the front of the Earth satellite.

Moon Chang'e 4