A robotic Chinese spacecraft named Chang’e 4 braked out of lunar orbit and slowed to a controlled touchdown on the far side of the moon Thursday, a first in the history of space exploration. The lander later deployed a small rover to explore the surrounding landscape.
A robotic lander and rover lifted off Friday (U.S. time) from China’s Xichang space center, kicking off a journey that will culminate in an attempt in early January to touch down on the far side of the moon for the first time.
China plans to launch a robotic mission to return samples from the lunar surface, the first such mission in four decades, in November on top of the country’s new heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket, according to state media reports.
A rover and landing platform developed as a backup for China’s Chang’e 3 moon mission will be repurposed to attempt the first touchdown on the lunar far side by the end of the decade, Chinese officials said.