Enlarge / China released this image of the lunar surface taken by the Chang’e-4 spacecraft. (credit: Xinhua)
Declaring that it has opened a new chapter in lunar exploration, the China National Space Administration announced late Monday night that its Chang’e-4 lander had safely set down on the far side of the Moon. No spacecraft has ever made a soft landing there.
According to state media, a Beijing-based control center commanded the spacecraft to begin the landing procedure at 9:15pm ET Monday (10:15am, Tuesday, local time), from an altitude of 15km above the lunar surface. During an 11-minute descent, Chang’e-4 slowed its speed from 1.7 km/s to nearly zero before it landed in the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin. This is in the mid-southern latitudes of the Moon on its far side; it should offer important scientific information about Earth and the early Solar System.
The 1.2-ton lander is made from backup components of the Chang’e-3 mission, which China’s space program landed on Mare Imbrium on the near side of the Moon five years ago. Shortly after landing, Chang’e-4 returned a photo of the lunar surface by way a relay satellite in lunar orbit, named Queqiao, meaning Magpie Bridge.