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Chinese Lunar Rover Begins Its Exploration of the Moon

Contrary to the enduring but mistaken notion that the moon has a “dark side” — you can blame Pink Floyd for that, at least in part — the photographs showed the landscape bathed in an orange hue, casting the sharp shadows from the lander and the rover. The other two, in black and white, showed the lander descending.

The spacecraft was the first to land intact on the side of the moon that perpetually faces away from Earth. A Soviet satellite took the first photographs of the far side in 1959, and the Apollo missions circled above it between 1968 and 1972, but the difficulty of communicating with earthbound scientists had always made the idea of landing there more complex, if not necessarily prohibitive.

Dr. Wu, in his televised remarks, said the landing had been a “great kickoff” for future lunar missions, including ones intended to land astronauts — something only the United States has accomplished, sending 12 men to the moon. Under the current schedule, China would send the first astronaut by 2030.

“We are building China into a space giant,” he said.

To overcome the challenge of communicating from the moon’s far side, China had previously launched a satellite called Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge. It now orbits beyond the moon to act as a relay for transmissions to and from the mission control center on the northwestern outskirts of Beijing.

China’s first lunar probe, known as Chang’e-3, landed on the near side of the moon in 2013. It also released a rover, but it was hindered by terrain and communication problems. After a month it came to a halt, and broadcast only intermittently following that.

Yu Guobin, a spokesman for the Chang’e-4 program, said in televised remarks that the detachment of the rover was the “more important historical moment.”

NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, congratulated his Chinese counterparts for the successful landing. In a message on Twitter, he called the mission “a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!” Twitter is banned inside China’s Great Firewall, but his remark was widely quoted nonetheless.

Source: NYT > World

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