A Chinese lunar rover has officially left its spacecraft to start exploring the far side of the moon after a historic touchdown on Thursday.
The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) confirmed the landing of its spacecraft, Chang'e-4, at 10:26 a.m. Beijing Time on January 3 (9:26 p.m. EST on January 2). And now, its the rover — named Yutu 2 (Jade Rabbit 2) — kicked off the unprecedented mission of exploring the so-called dark side of the moon, or the hemisphere that is always facing away from planet Earth.
As reported by the Guardian, Yutu 2 drove off the lander's ramp and started making its first tracks on the lunar surface at 10:22 p.m. on Thursday, around 12 hours after Chang'e 4 officially landed. Wu Weiren, project chief designer, told state media the historic moment the rover separated from the lander was "a small step" for the space device, but a giant leap for China, a remark similar to that of Neil Armstrong upon landing on the moon in 1969.
"The separation of Chang'e 4's rover was smooth and perfect," Weiren told state broadcaster CCTV. "The rover rolled only a small step on to the moon, but it represented a huge stride for the Chinese nation," he added.
This was humankind's first attempt at landing on the far side of the moon, which is known for having different characteristics to the side that's nearest to the Earth. Both the lander and the rover carry instruments that will help explore, collect data, and analyze the region's remarkable geology.Chinese state news agency Xinhua stated the lunar probe carried Earth items such as a small biosphere that included the plant Arabidopsis, which will hopefully blossom into the first flower on the moon, as well as potato, cotton, rapeseed, yeast, and fruit fly. Chang'e 4 could bring new information regarding the cataclysmic collision that originated the moon, as well as where the water found in lunar soil comes from, by undertaking different operations, such as testing the soil and measuring temperatures.
The Chang'e lunar mission was inspired by the Chinese moon goddess and Yutu was her white pet rabbit. The rover's name was agreed upon after a worldwide poll. This is China's second Yutu space device, as Yutu 1 was the name given to the rover that in 2013 touched down at Mare Imbrium, which is on the moon's near side. The successful landing on the unexplored part of the moon was praised as a major technical achievement, and a huge step when it comes to China's space exploration ambitions.