How China is getting set to build a moon base

Yutu 2 rover
Video captured by China’s Chang’e-4 lander shows the Yutu 2 rover roaming the surface of the moon’s far side. (CNSA via Weibo)

Flush from the success of the world’s first rover mission to the moon’s far side, Chinese space officials said today that they’re planning robotic trips to the lunar south pole to prepare the way for a crewed moon base.

The officials discussed future lunar exploration plans less than two weeks after the Chang’e-4 lander’s history-making touchdown, and only a few days after China’s space agency released video of the lander’s descent and lunar surface activities.

Chang’e-4 and its solar-powered Yutu 2 rover are hibernating during the 2-week-long lunar night, but their handlers are already thinking about sending probes to places where the sun almost always shines.

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It’s a first! Chinese probe lands on moon’s far side

Yutu 2 on lunar surface
An image captured from the Chang’e-4 lander shows the Yutu 2 rover rolling onto the terrain of the lunar far side. (CLEP via Weibo / Twitter)

Official Chinese media confirmed that the nation’s robotic Chang’e-4 probe made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon — but not before issuing, and then withdrawing, an initial set of announcements.

The honest-to-goodness announcement came via several state-run media outlets just after noon Beijing time on Jan. 3 (8 p.m. PT Jan. 2).

That’s about an hour after the Twitter accounts for China’s CGTV network and the China Daily newspaper flashed word of a landing. Within a minute or two, those tweets were deleted, but the media echoes nevertheless continued through the Twitterverse, mailing lists and online reports.

Those outlets apparently jumped the gun on what was intended to be a coordinated release of the news. In its re-issued announcement, CGTV said the landing took place at 10:26 a.m. Beijing time (6:26 p.m. PT), which meshes with the timing for the initial tweeted-then-deleted reports.

Chang’e-4 is the latest in a series of probes named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology. The combination lander and rover was sent into space in early December, and followed a slow but efficient 4.5-day trajectory from Earth to the moon. The lander made a series of lunar orbits over the past couple of weeks to line it up for the landing.

Communications were facilitated by a relay satellite that was sent to a gravitational balance point about 33,000 miles beyond the moon last May.

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China sends out probe to moon’s far side

Chang'e-4 liftoff
A Chinese Long March 3B rocket lifts off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, sending the Chang’e-4 probe into space. (CASC via Weibo)

China’s space effort launched its most ambitious robotic lunar mission to date, taking aim at a crater near the south pole on the moon’s far side.

The Chang’e-4 combination lander and rover were sent into space atop a Long March 3B rocket at 2:22 a.m. local time Dec. 8 (10:22 a.m. PT Dec. 7) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s Sichuan Province, according to Sina Tech and other Chinese sources.

Chang’e-4’s flight plan calls for the probe to trace a looping series of orbits for 26 days or so, eventually putting it into position for a landing in Von Karman Crater, part of the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

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