China has achieved for the first time in history land a ship on the hidden side of the Moon. The probe Chang'e 4, which was launched on December 8, touched the satellite floor this Thursday at 10:26 local time, according to the National Space Administration of China. The success of the moon landing, which was not announced officially until approximately two hours after it was produced, is yet another milestone for the ambitious space program of the Asian country, still far from the United States in terms of funding but which has become an absolute priority for the Chinese authorities.
The unmanned spacecraft had already entered elliptical lunar orbit last Sunday, with the closest point to the star about 15 kilometers from its surface and the farthest to about 100 kilometers, according to the National Space Administration of China. Since then, the ideal time to pose the probe on the lunar surface has been sought, because the unseen part of the star has periods of day and night that last about 14 Earth days and sunlight was needed for both the lander and the lander. Mobile scanning vehicle will work as planned.
In the meantime, the engineers checked the proper functioning of the probe and satellite Queqiao, which serves as a link to communicate this explorer vehicle with the Earth. The fact that communication with the probe can not be direct – the very mass of the Moon prevents it – is one of the main technical obstacles of the mission. Finally the probe touched surface without problems in the crater Von Kárman, of 186 kilometers of diameter, located in the basin Aitken (in the South Pole), that at the same time is one of the greater craters of impact known in the solar system and one of the oldest of the Moon. "A new chapter has been opened in the lunar exploration by man," the Chinese space agency said in a statement.
The objective of the probe Chang'e 4 It is mainly to analyze the composition of the terrain and the relief of the area, which could give clues about the origins and evolution of the satellite. That moon face, invisible from Earth, is very different from the one we know. If the exposed face shows plain "seas" of basalt and relatively few craters, the other side is full of these and its composition looks different. The Chinese mission could gather data on the evolution and geology of this unknown area of the satellite.
The Chinese ship has thus completed a new milestone in space exploration, which this week has witnessed two other achievements. The probe Osiris-Rex from NASA it descended to the asteroid Bennu and orbited it barely a kilometer and a half from the surface. This complicated maneuver depends on the microgravity force exerted by the rock, barely 500 meters in diameter.
The year started with the passage of another US probe –New Horizons– next to Ultima Thule, the farthest body of the Solar System that has been visited.
Six new space agencies from around the world (China, Europe, India, Japan, the United States and Russia) are participating in the new race for lunar exploration. It's been almost half a century since the missions Apollo They put Neil Armstrong on the surface of our satellite. The samples obtained are a scientific treasure to understand the origin of the solar system and the general principles of the formation of the planets.
Chang'e 4 It takes its name in honor of a goddess who, according to Chinese mythology, lives on the Moon. After the moon landing, it is planned to deploy an exploration vehicle that will begin to explore this unknown lunar landscape and transmit data that will clarify some of the main questions on the hidden side of the satellite.
The ship is sister of the Chang'e 3, which in 2013 landed on the visible side of the Moon with the lunar explorer Yutu on board. The mission was considered a success, although Yutu (which means jade hare in Mandarin) he barely managed to travel 110 meters before your systems will fail without possible repair.
In this case, the head of the Chinese lunar exploration program, Wu Weiren, said at a press conference in August, the spacecraft has been designed with a "greater adaptability" to the rugged terrain. The artifact, according to Wu, is "the lightest in the world of its kind", weighing 140 kilos. Although it had been announced that his name would be decided by popular vote in October, so far the nickname with which this vehicle will be known has not been made public. Yes it has been announced that it has six wheels and is equipped with a panoramic camera, radar and infrared imaging spectrometer, among other equipment.
The spacecraft, in turn, also has cameras to record the moon landing and images of the terrain, and a low-frequency spectrometer. The China Space Administration has already published the first photographs sent by the probe during the moon landing.
The mission, in addition to analyzing the data of the lunar surface, will also include other scientific experiments. Chang'e 4 it carries on board silkworm eggs, potato seeds and flowers to observe germination, growth and respiration in low gravity conditions on the lunar surface.
Next year China plans to send a new probe to the Moon, Chang'e 5, whose mission will be to collect soil samples and bring them back to Earth.
The Chinese space program has made enormous progress in the last decade. It is still far behind in terms of technology and budget compared to the United States: it is estimated that it is endowed with 6,000 million dollars, compared to 40,000 dollars from the US space agency. But it has the advantage of receiving the unmistakable support of the Chinese Government. It fits perfectly in the economic growth strategy that Beijing has set, which wants to prioritize innovation and technological development; contributes to their national security and, in addition, serves as a diplomatic tool and soft power.
If already has taken the first steps to build a space station, the Tiangong-3, which is expected to be ready by 2022, by 2030 China plans to send a manned mission to the Moon, a goal that the United States gave up for the end of the program Apollo.