A Chinese lunar rover landed on the dark side of the moon at 10:26am on Thursday, Beijing time, marking the start of the first exploration of a place that cannot be seen from Earth.

This remarkable yet uneventful landing will boost Beijing’s ambitions of becoming a space superpower.

The Chang’e-4 probe, a program named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, landed and sent a close-up photo of the far side of the moon back to ground control via the Queqiao communication relay satellite.

Unlike the near side of the moon that always faces the Earth and offers many flat areas to touch down on, the far side, or dark side, is mountainous and rugged.

This portion of the moon has never been reached by a man-made probe before, neither by the United States nor the former Soviet Union, even during the golden era of lunar exploration in the 1960-70s when the United States landed men on the other side of the moon.

cf35db4a68b0428db1fd25030f4515a5
Live coverage of the landing by China Central Television. Photo: CCTV screen grab
photo00012019-01-03E4JO8A3N00AN0001NOS.png
A photo of the landing zone on the moon’s far side, taken by a camera mounted on the top of the probe. Photo: China News Services

Beijing has been pouring billions of yuan into its lofty space program, whose technologies can easily be tapped by the Chinese military. Key goals include catapulting a permanent space station into orbit by 2022 and eventually sending men to the moon.

The lunar probe was launched in December 2017 from Xichang launch center in Sichuan province. It was the second Chinese probe to land on the moon, following the Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, rover mission in 2013.

The Chang’e-4 probe is carrying six experimental payloads from China and four from abroad and includes low-frequency radio astronomical studies – aiming to take advantage of the lack of interference on the far side, according to Xinhua.

Chinese version: 嫦娥四號成功著陸月球背面

Read more: So far so good for Chinese lunar probe

China will have sole space station in 2020s, Beijing says

China to visit moon’s poles after dipping into the dark side

Space lab’s mission goes on as it outlives designed lifespan