China landing its Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the moon is an early phase of an ambitious program of space exploration.
Shayanne Gal/Business Insider
- China landed a spacecraft called Chang’e 4 on the moon’s far side for the first in human history.
- A rover and lander will study lunar geology, look for water ice, scan the night sky for radio bursts, and even grow silkworms.
- But Chang’e 4 is just one mission that will lead to a sample return, a crewed lunar landing, and maybe even the construction of permanent moon bases.
- The moon mission can be seen as yet another sign of the erosion of the US’ standing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
However, Chang’e 4 didn’t touch down just anywhere: China parked the car-sized lander and its rover on the moon’s far side— an enigmatic region that, until now, humans have explored from only above.
China’s feat was celebrated around the world by space-exploration enthusiasts and even top-level NASA officials. After all, it could help unlock ancient secrets of the moon’s violent formation, scan a crystal-clear night sky for radio objects billions of light-years from Earth, and even help locate deposits of water ice.
“America’s space program has always set the example for the world. China’s moon landing is a scientific achievement no doubt,” Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, tweeted on Friday. But he added the mission is “also a reminder that we need to get back to policy over politics” or “the world might leave us behind” — with “we” being the United States of America.
Kelly is an astronaut who’s as patriotic and informed as they come, and he calls developments in space as he sees them. He’s also not alone in believing China may soon blow past the rest of the world in space exploration.
“This is more than just a landing,” Alan Duffy, an astronomer at the Royal Institution of Australia, told the Washington Post after the landing.
Here’s what the Chang’e 4 mission is, why China landed it on the far side of the moon, and why it should be a wake-up call, though not a shocking one, to the US and the rest of the world.
Early in the morning of December 8, 2018, a Chinese rocket launched with Chang’e 4: the first mission ever to touch the far side of the moon.