China’s lunar probe may land on the moon’s far side tonight

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A Chinese space probe successfully touched down on the far side of the moon on Thursday, the space agency said, hailing the event as a historic first in the country's space program. Just $5 a month.

A photo taken at 11:40 a.m. and sent back by Chang'e 4 shows a small crater and a barren surface that appears to be illuminated by a light from the lunar explorer. According to NASA, the name refers to the "to a Chinese folktale about magpies forming a bridge with their wings to allow Zhi Nu, the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, to reach her husband".

China said in 2017 it was making preparations to send a person to the moon.

Launched on December 8, Chang'e 4 could be nearing the end of its journey to untouched lunar territory. The landing on Thursday was announced to the public by state broadcaster CCTV at the top of the noon news.

The Chinese rover on the far side of the moon is leaving its tracks in the soft lunar surface. But it was this mystery that encouraged China to set out for the discovery, he added. But the Chang'e-4 landing opens the mysterious far side for up-close exploration.

While in popular culture the far side of the Moon is often called the "dark side", the far side is not dark in the sense that it does get exposed to sunlight.

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It is the first time a soft landing has been performed on the Moon's far side - also known as the dark side because it faces away from Earth and remains comparatively unknown - due to challenges relaying signals. It has a different composition than the near side, where previous missions have landed.

The probe, comprising a lander and a rover, landed at the preselected landing area on the far side of the moon at 10:26 a.m. Beijing Time, the China National Space Administration announced. "This probe can fill the gap of low-frequency observation in radio astronomy and will provide important information for studying the origin of stars and nebula evolution". But China got around this by launching a satellite last May that acts as a relay between the lander and Earth. Its plans include establishing a permanent manned space station, a manned lunar landing, and eventually probes to Mars.

"China has never said it is in a space race with the U.S., and has no such intention", said Professor Wang Xiangsui, director of the Research Centre of Strategic Issues at Beihang University.

The landing was "a big deal" because it used an engineering technique of the spacecraft itself choosing a safe place to touch down in treacherous terrain, something called autonomous hazard avoidance, said Purdue University lunar and planetary scientist Jay Melosh.

"Building a space power is a dream that we persistently pursue", he said in an interview with CCTV at the Beijing Aerospace Flight and Control Center.

By Ken Moritsugu for the Associated Press, with additional reporting from The Diplomat.

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