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Asia-Pacific

China lands first-ever probe on 'dark' side of the moon

media First image of the moon's far side taken by China's Chang'e-4 probe, 3 January 2019 Twitter/@CGTNOfficial

A Chinese lunar rover successfully landed on the far side of the moon on Thursday, the first time ever for such a feat.The China National Space Administration says the Chang'e-4 probe will carry out six experiments from China and four from abroad.

The probe is just one of China's ambitious space targets, which include a reusable launcher by 2021, a super-powerful rocket capable of delivering heavier payloads than NASA and SpaceX, a moon base, a permanently crewed space station, and a Mars rover.

With their Chang'e 4 lunar probe, it appears they are well on their way to reaching some important goals and challenging the United States' dominance in space projects.

Olivier Sanguy, the editor in chief of news at France's space study centre, Cité de l'Espace, in the southern city of Toulouse told RFI that the landing is "quite an achievement".

Olivier Sanguy, Cité de l'Espace, 3 January 2019 03/01/2019 Listen

For a start, it had to land on the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region, known for its rocky terrain.

But is was also remarkable he says "because it was fully automatic."

"The lander had cameras looking at the surface and making decisions" about where to land.

As there is no direct "line of sight" for signals to the far side of the moon, China in May sent the Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) satellite into the moon's orbit, positioning it so that it can relay data and commands between the lander and Earth.

The nick name "dark side" came about from the fact that moon is "tidally locked" to Earth in its rotation so the same side is always facing Earth.

Low-frequency radio astronomical studies will also be possible to carry out because the far side of the moon has less interference.

The rover will also study the structure and mineral composition of the terrain and carry our botanical studies with tomato plants and potatoes.

"It's a very good start," said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar exploration program, in an interview with state broadcaster CCTV. "We are now building China into an aerospace power."

Olivier Sanguy agrees. He says China is already a big space power, but it now want to go one step further.

"China wants to prove that it is no longer the country of cheap things.It wants to prove that it's now the country of high technology."

Other countries he says will now be keen to be a part of these new discoveries to strengthen their diplomatic ties with China.

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