STREAMING NOW: Watch Now
CLOSINGS: View Closings

China lunar rover successfully touches down on far side of the moon, state media announces

The success of the mission represents a landmark in human space exploration.

Posted: Jan 3, 2019 10:49 AM

(CNN) -- In an historic first, China has successfully landed a rover on the far side of the moon, Chinese state media announced Thursday, 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 craft, officially named Chang'e 4, at 10:26 am Beijing time on Thursday, in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, the moon's largest and oldest impact crater, China Central Television (CCTV) reported.

It made its final descent from an elliptical orbit 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) above the moon's surface, making a "smooth" and "precise" landing, according to the general designer of Chang'e 4, Sun Zezhou, who added the probe pulled off a "bulls-eye."

State media reported the rover transmitted back the world's first close range image of the far side of the moon. Six hours after touchdown, the rover will descend from the lander onto the moon's surface, mission spokesman Yu Guobin told CCTV.

The far side of the moon is the hemisphere that never faces earth, due to the moon's rotation. It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the "dark side of the moon," even though it receives just as much sunlight as its earth-facing side.

The success of the mission represents a landmark in human space exploration. The area where the probe has landed faces away from earth, meaning it is free from radio frequencies. As a result, it is not possible for a lunar rover to communicate directly with ground control. To overcome this hurdle, China launched a dedicated satellite orbiting the moon earlier this year that will be able to relay information from the rover to earth.

"China is on the road to become a strong space nation. And this marks one of the milestone events of building a strong space nation," chief designer for the lunar mission, Wu Weiren, told CCTV.

The lunar craft lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province on December 8, entering the moon's orbit four days later, according to Chinese state media.

It is hoped the lander will conduct a number of tasks, including conducting 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.

"Since the far side of the moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it's an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can 'listen' to the deeper reaches of the cosmos," said Tongjie Liu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center for the China National Space Administration.

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.

"China is anxious to get into the record books with its space achievements," said Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the US Naval War College and an expert on China's space program.

"It is highly likely that with the success of Chang'e -- and the concurrent success of the human spaceflight Shenzhou program -- the two programs will eventually be combined toward a Chinese human spaceflight program to the Moon," she added. "Odds of the next voice transmission from the Moon being in Mandarin are high."

Thursday's official televised announcement that the probe had landed came approximately an hour after state media outlets China Daily and China Global Television Network (CGTN) deleted posts on social media proclaiming the mission a success, sparking widespread confusion as to whether the probe had in fact had made touchdown.

No explanation was given as to why the earlier tweets were deleted. On social media, observers speculated as to the cause of the apparent backtracking, with many wondering if the mission had experienced a temporary upset, or whether it was a simple case of state media jumping the gun ahead of the official announcement.

China's last lunar rover -- named Yutu, or Jade Rabbit -- ceased operation in August 2016 after 972 days of service on the moon's surface as part of the Chang'e 3 mission. China was only the third nation to carry out a lunar landing, after the United States and Russia.

The overall design of the new rover is inherited from Jade Rabbit, according to the chief designer of China's lunar probe program.

"We worked hard to improve its reliability, conducting thousands of experiments to ensure its long-term operation, especially taking into consideration rocks, ravines and frictions on the Moon," Wu Weiren told state broadcaster CCTV in August.

Beijing plans to launch its first Mars probe around 2020 to carry out orbital and rover exploration, followed by a mission that would include collection of surface samples from the Red Planet.

China is also aiming to have a fully operational permanent space station by 2022, as the future of the International Space Station remains in doubt due to uncertain funding and complicated politics.

In comparison, despite its recent success in sending a robotic lander to Mars, the US space agency NASA has faced years of budgetary constraints.

Although the Chinese government has long stressed its "peaceful motives" in space exploration, Washington increasingly views China -- along with Russia -- as a potential threat, accusing Beijing of working to bring new weapons into space and prompting President Donald Trump to announce the establishment of a US Space Force by 2020.

The US Congress has barred NASA from working with China due to national security concerns.

"A high percentage of space technology is (civilian-military) dual use," Johnson-Freese said. "The US sees pretty much everything China does in space -- including things the US has done in space -- as threatening."

She suggested that combining military preparedness with diplomatic efforts would best deter perceived threats in space from all sides but added that "unfortunately, the US has not shown interest in diplomatic leadership regarding space security."

Huntsville
Overcast
68° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 68°
Florence
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 64°
Fayetteville
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 64°
Decatur
Overcast
68° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 68°
Scottsboro
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 64°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 158701

Reported Deaths: 2680
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23292377
Mobile16916315
Tuscaloosa10345140
Montgomery10250197
Madison935096
Shelby739063
Baldwin665869
Lee654665
Calhoun459961
Marshall439550
Etowah428551
Houston417034
Morgan416435
DeKalb342629
Elmore320853
St. Clair295542
Limestone287230
Walker279492
Talladega266435
Cullman248024
Lauderdale229442
Jackson215915
Autauga205931
Franklin205531
Colbert202132
Russell19493
Blount193225
Chilton188432
Dallas186627
Coffee177111
Dale176351
Covington174729
Escambia172730
Clarke135217
Chambers135044
Pike134113
Tallapoosa132987
Marion108129
Barbour10339
Marengo101922
Butler101140
Winston92913
Geneva9067
Lawrence85832
Pickens85218
Bibb84014
Randolph82716
Hale76830
Washington74912
Clay74412
Cherokee73814
Henry7176
Lowndes71328
Bullock64917
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60830
Perry5926
Fayette57713
Cleburne5698
Wilcox56812
Conecuh56113
Macon53620
Lamar4965
Sumter47221
Choctaw39212
Greene34216
Coosa2043
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 247587

Reported Deaths: 3131
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Shelby36376562
Davidson31748337
Knox1273889
Rutherford11893114
Hamilton11758109
Williamson710256
Sumner6114110
Wilson469059
Putnam444056
Montgomery421756
Out of TN407935
Madison378079
Sullivan376346
Bradley358723
Washington347651
Sevier335122
Blount334336
Maury330737
Robertson261441
Hamblen246448
Tipton236723
Dyer223732
Unassigned22063
Gibson216244
Hardeman189833
Coffee189425
Obion178822
Trousdale17758
Greene175052
Bedford170920
Fayette169225
Dickson169119
Anderson168814
McMinn164036
Loudon162311
Lawrence161820
Cumberland161025
Wayne16007
Weakley156126
Carter155633
Jefferson155521
Monroe146228
Warren143910
Lauderdale143617
Henderson141626
Hardin139720
Macon134325
Roane13027
Franklin129519
Haywood129527
Overton122717
Hawkins120925
White118814
Johnson11507
Carroll114826
Marshall113810
McNairy112927
Rhea111118
Cheatham106011
Cocke105814
Campbell103012
Bledsoe10174
Smith99113
Lake9853
Giles96936
Fentress91611
Lincoln8973
Crockett86820
Hickman80315
Henry79611
Marion7739
Chester73214
DeKalb73217
Decatur66311
Grainger6114
Grundy57011
Union5433
Claiborne5266
Polk51113
Jackson4525
Humphreys4504
Morgan4437
Houston42017
Benton4199
Unicoi4183
Cannon4152
Clay40613
Lewis4033
Scott3845
Sequatchie3462
Stewart33111
Meigs3276
Perry3082
Pickett2747
Moore2692
Van Buren2071
Hancock1193

Community Events