Chang'e 4, a combined lander and rover, will make astronomical observations and probe the structure and mineral composition of the terrain above and below the surface.
New photos from China's space agency show its lunar rover leaving tracks on the far side of the moon, at the start of a historic exploration mission. China also says that it intends to launch missions to explore other planets as well.
The landing showed China's space program had achieved the technological capability required for a tricky project, said Richard de Grijs, an astrophysics professor who was until previous year based at Peking University's Kavli Institute.
Launched from Xichang in southwest China's Sichuan province on Dec 8, the spacecraft is on a mission to seek out what lies on this mysterious "dark side" of the Moon, which can not be seen from the Earth as the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth and rotates at the same rate that it orbits the Earth. As Chang'e-4 will never be in a direct line of sight with Earth, that satellite relay is going to be essential. The probe, comprising a lander and a rover, landed at the preselected landing area on the far side of the moon at 10:26 a.m. Beijing Time (0226 GMT), the China National Space Administration announced. Chinese media on Thursday released the first ever close-up photos of the moon's far side, which were taken by the probe and sent to the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center. "Success!" posted Lin Xiaoyi, a science and space news blogger at 10:29 a.m.
We're looking forward to the treasure trove of data Chang'e-4 sends back, but the CNSA aren't stopping here - Chang'e-5 is scheduled to launch by 2020, with the aim of landing on the Moon and then returning to Earth. However, moon missions waned after the Soviet Union collapsed and NASA directed funds toward global space stations and exploration of the rest of the solar system.
Exploring the cosmos from the far side of the moon could eventually help scientists learn more about the early days of the solar system and even the birth of the universe's first stars. According to Andrew Jones, a journalist reporting on the Chinese space program, Chang'e 4's descent required "laser ranging and optical cameras for navigation, velocity, and coarse hazard avoidance".
The hidden side is said to be mountainous and rugged, dotted with craters, while the visible side offers many flat surfaces for landing. According to National Geographic, though CNSA is secretive, previous reports indicated it was targeting the Von Kármán crater located in the Moon's South Pole-Aitken basin, the latter of which is "a low-lying feature more than 2,414km across that covers almost a quarter of the Moon's surface", in addition to one of the largest known impact craters in the Solar System.