Chinese state media announced on Thursday morning that the country’s NASA equivalent, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), has successfully landed their Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the moon. CNN reports the probe touched down at 10:26 Beijing time in the South Pole Aitken Basin. As the Inquisitr noted, it becomes the first spacecraft to explore the so-called “dark side of the moon,” the hemisphere that never faces Earth due to the way the moon rotates.
The announcement comes after a period of confusion that saw state media outlets China Global Television Network and China Daily delete social media posts proclaiming the landing a success. That led to fears that perhaps the Chang’e 4 lander or rover was damaged in the landing or not communicating with the lunar satellite Queqiao which relays data from the far side of the moon back to Earth. But with the Chinese government notorious for its tight control over news, it’s just as likely state media simply made their announcements before being given official permission.
The Von Karman crater chosen by CNSA for the Chang’e 4 landing is one of the deepest on the moon, and a variety of experiments will be conducted on the lander and via the rover to determine the make-up and geology of the region, which the New York Times reports could be rich in mineral deposits. As a nod to China’s stated goal of establishing a moon base, the lander is also equipped with a self-sustaining ecosystem consisting of potatoes, rock cress plant seeds, and silkworm eggs. According to Inverse, the goal is to see how germination, growth, and silk production is affected by the moon’s lack of gravity, which sits at just 17 percent of Earth’s gravity. A webcam will track the fate of these unlikely lunar lifeforms.
The Chang’e 4 is the second spacecraft landed on the moon by China and another sign that the nation is well on its way to becoming a major space power. The year 2018 saw China launch more rockets into space than any other country, and Beijing has announced plans for a Mars probe around 2020 and a permanent space station by 2022. Questions still remain as to how well these lofty ambitions will translate into reality. Their first Chang’e 3 moon rover made it just 374 feet over a month before breaking down in March of 2015, and in 2018 the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 stopped communicating and fell to Earth at the end of its operational life.