On Thursday morning, a Chinese probe called the Chang’e-4 touched down on the moon’s far side, making China the first to do so.
That’s also exciting for scientific reasons. The country’s rover will study a basin more than 1,550 miles in diameter called the Von Kármán crater, and it’ll carry a spectrometer that will enable it to perform low-frequency radio astronomy observations, as the moon blocks it from radio noise coming from Earth, according to the BBC.
The Chinese Space Agency also will attempt to grow flora and fauna on the moon’s surface, using live species of cotton, rapeseed, potato, fruit fly, yeast and the flowering plant arabidopsis. If China is able to create a miniature biosphere, it may successfully grow the first flower on the lunar surface.
“This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Twitter.
The far-side landing is China’s first attempt at “something that other space powers have not attempted before,” Ye Quanzhi, an astronomer at Caltech, told the BBC.
The surface is called the far side because it never faces Earth. The moon rotates on its axis every 27 days, the same amount of time it takes to orbit Earth, which is why we only ever see one moon face, according to Space.com. To call it the “dark side of the moon,” while poetic, is inaccurate, because the far side gets plenty of light.
“There are two weeks of daylight and two weeks of night on every spot on the lunar surface,” Charlie Duke, the Lunar Module pilot on the Apollo 16 mission, told Space.com.
China has been leading the charge in moon landings of late. Its Chang’e-3 craft, which landed on the moon’s Earth-facing side in 2013, was the first moon landing since the former Soviet Union touched down with its Luna 24 in 1976. China plans to send the Chang’e-5 probe next year to collect samples and bring them back, which hasn’t been done since the then-Soviet Union’s mission, The Associated Press reports.
With its landing in 2013, China became the third nation to send a vehicle to the lunar surface. The United States is still the only country to have humans step foot on the moon.