China became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, the country’s state-run media announced Thursday, a milestone that solidifies Beijing’s ambitions to become a world leader in space exploration.
The probe, dubbed the Chang’e-4, touched down at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time, landing on the moon’s dark side, which forever faces away from the Earth. It’s the first lunar landing since 2013, when the Chinese Space Agency sent another craft to the moon, the Chang’e-3, becoming the third nation to send a vehicle to the moon, after the United States and the former Soviet Union.
Chang’e-4, which is carrying a rover that will explore the far side, has already sent images back to Earth. China sent a separate satellite into space in May to serve as a communications relay with the rover because being on the dark side of the moon prevents a direct signal from being sent back to Earth.
Other missions have taken photos of the moon’s far side, but the images below are the first taken from the surface.
China has announced bold plans for its space program and plans to send another probe, the Chang’e-5, to the moon next year. That craft would be the first to bring moon samples back to Earth since 1976.
The New York Times also noted that China could soon be the only nation to have a space station in orbit. President Donald Trump has considered ending funding for the International Space Station by 2025 even as he touts America’s new Space Force. That would leave China’s Tiangong-2 as the only such structure in existence.
The United States remains the only country to send humans to the moon, but Trump has said he wants to send Americans back to the lunar surface in the future.