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China makes first lunar landing on the dark side of the moon

China has achieved Thursday the unprecedented lunar landing of a craft on the far side of the moon, a world first that reinforces Beijing’s space ambitions.

The Chang’e-4 exploration module, which left Earth on December 8, landed safely at 10:26 am Beijing time (02:26 GMT), the China New News Agency reported.

He sent a photo of the lunar surface to the Queqiao satellite, orbiting the moon, said the CCTV public television.

Unlike the face of the Moon closest to the Earth, which is still facing our planet, no probe or exploration module had ever touched the ground on the other side.

The hidden face is mountainous and rugged, dotted with craters, while the visible face offers many flat surfaces to land.

For years, China has been preparing for this particularly difficult operation from the technological point of view.

One of the major challenges is to be able to communicate with the lunar robot: the hidden face is always oriented in the opposite direction to the Earth, there is no direct “line of sight” to transmit the signals, except to install a relay.

In May, China launched a satellite called Queqiao (“The Bridge of the Magpie”), positioned in lunar orbit to relay orders and data exchanged between the Earth and the module.

During the lunar night – which lasts 14 days on land – temperatures drop to -173 degrees. During the day – also equivalent to 14 Earth days – they can reach 127 degrees.

And to compound the difficulty, the Chang’e-4 was sent to a region of the South Pole of the Moon, the Aitken Basin, whose terrain is particularly complex and steep.

The equipment must, in particular, conduct studies on radio low frequencies, mineral resources and the cultivation of tomatoes and other plants.

«Jade rabbit»

This is the second time that China has sent a machine to explore the lunar surface after the small Yutu motorized robot (“Jade Bunny”) in 2013, which remained active for 31 months.

Beijing is already planning to launch a Chang’e-5 next year to collect samples and bring them back to Earth.

China invests billions in its space program, led by the military. It places satellites in orbit, on its behalf (earth observation, telecommunications, Beidou geolocation system) or for other countries. She also hopes to send a robot on Mars and humans on the moon.

Beijing unveiled in November a replica of its first major space station (“Heaven Palace”) which should be operational around 2022 and succeed the ISS, the International Space Station.

The ISS associates the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, but his retirement is scheduled for 2024.

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