China just pulled off something never accomplished in the history of mankind before: They successfully landed a probe on the far side of the moon.
Unlike the face of the moon that you and I can see plain as night from down here, the far side of the moon is largely never visible from the Earth’s surface, and is filled with cavernous craters and jagged mountains, making exploration of it near-impossible before today. In fact, that side of the moon was completely unobserved right up until 1959 when the Soviet Luna 3 probe photographed it for the first time.
While all the Apollo-era moon human landings occurred on the significantly flatter near side of the moon, the far side has remained something of an unobtainable mystery.
Today, however, Chinese space officials pulled off the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon, touching down the Chang’e-4 space probe at around 1:26pm Australian time today. Shortly afterwards, the first pictures from the surface of the moon’s far side were shared by the English language China Xinhua News on Twitter.
The probe was sent to the far side of the moon as part of a multi-billion dollar space program initiated by Beijing officials that has the lofty goal of establishing a fully-staffed space station on the surface of the moon by 2022.
The probe was launched from a ground-level centre in southwestern China last month, and is the second Chinese-created probe to touch down on the lunar surface, following the successful launch of the Yutu rover mission in 2013. A subsequent Chang’e-5 probe mission is being planned, which will gather samples and actually return to the Earth, the first time a man-made object will be sent to the Moon and return to Earth since 1976.
The current probe on the Moon is set to explore both above and below the surface, and carries with it a raft of experiments, including a biosphere experiment aimed at creating a mini self-sustaining ecosystem of silkworms and potatoes.
So there you bloody well go, mates. It’s a big year already.