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China flew spacecraft on the "dark" side of the moon in the world first

Ken Moritzugu, Associated Press

Published Thursday, January 3, 2019 6:02 PM EST

Last Updated on Thursday, January 3, 2019 07:46 AM EST

BEIJING – China's space program reached its first Thursday: landing on the so-called dark side of the moon.

Three nations – the United States, the former Soviet Union, and most recently China – have sent spacecraft to the nearby side of the moon, which faces the Earth, but this landing is the first ever farther away.

The Chinese National Space Administration said the tiffoon at 10:26 am on the Chang's "Handicraft 4" opened a new chapter in human lunar research.

A photograph made at 11:40 pm and sent by Chang's 4 shows a small crater and a barren surface that appears as lit by light from a lunar explorer. His name comes from the Chinese goddess who, according to the legend, lived on the moon for millennia.

The target strike highlights China's growing ambitions to compete with the US, Russia and Europe in space, and beyond, to consolidate the nation's position as a regional and global force.

"The cosmic dream is part of a dream to make China stronger," President Xi Jinping said in 2013 shortly after becoming a leader in China.

At the end of the year, Chinese media and officials welcomed Chang's promotion on December 8 as one of the nation's main achievements in 2018. Target arrival on Thursday was publicly announced by state-run Radio Television CCTV at peak noon news.

"Overall, China's space technology is still lagging behind the West, but by landing further from the moon, we have moved forward," said Hou Xiun, a professor at the Academy of Astronomy and Science at the Nanjing Space University.

He added that in China there are Mars, Jupiter and asteroids: "There is no doubt that our nation will go farther and farther."

In 2013, Chang's 3, the predecessor craft for the current mission, made the first landing arriving from Luna 24 of the former Soviet Union in 1976. The United States is the only country that has successfully sent one person to the moon, although China is also considering a crew mission.

For the time being, it plans to send Chang's inquiry into the moon next year and return it to Earth with samples – it has not been done since the Soviet mission in 1976.

The far side of the moon is not always dark, but sometimes called a dark side because it faces the Earth and is relatively unknown. It has a different composition from the nearby side, where previous missions have flown.

Chang's 4, combined lander and rover, will make astronomical observations and will examine the structure and mineral composition of the terrain above and below the surface.

"The outside of the moon is a rare quiet place that has no interference from radio signals from the Earth," mission spokesman Yu Gubin said, according to an official Xinhua news agency. "This probe can fill the void of low-frequency observations in radio astronomy and provide important information on the study of the origin of stars and the evolution of the nebula."

One challenge to work on the far side of the moon is communication with the Earth. China launched a low-level satellite in May, so Chang's 4 may send back information.

China carried out its first manned space mission in 2003, becoming the only third country to do so after Russia and the United States. She put two space stations into orbit and plans to open a rover on Mars in mid-2020. Her space program suffered a rare decline last year with the unsuccessful opening of the Long March 5 rocket.

Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Chinese moon research project, called the landing of the track.

"Building space power is a dream we are striving for," he said in an interview with CCTV at the Flight Center and Control Center in Beijing. "And we are gradually aware of it."


Associated Press writer Yan Wang and explorer Shangshang Wang contributed to this story

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