On January 3, 2019, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) soft-landed a spacecraft, the Chang’e-4 (嫦娥四号) robotic lander and rover, on the far side of the moon, the first such landing in history.
Chang’e-4, named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology, touched down in the Von Kármán crater in the lunar southern hemisphere and then released its rover, Yutu-2 (玉兔二号), to explore the lunar landscape.
Yutu-2 has proven a great success. As of June 10, the rover, named after the “Jade Rabbit,” a companion of the moon goddess, had traveled over 212 meters across the lunar surface, giving the far side of the moon “its first set of rover tracks,” as Mike Wall put it last January.
The Chang’e-4 mission comes in the wake of China’s publicized Chang’e-3 (嫦娥三号) mission in 2013. That was a historic mission in its own right, achieving the first lunar soft landing of any kind since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 probe in 1976.
The Chinese space program has, in short, become a force to be reckoned with. The Chinese government is increasingly determined to expand China’s space capabilities.
President Xi Jinping in 2016 declared his intention to make China a “space giant.” Beijing views “long-term space investment” — specifically, the goal of wealth creation, obtaining resources, and establishing a permanent human presence in space — key to what Lieutenant General Zhang Yulin People’s Liberation Army has called “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” And the moon is at the heart of China’s plans.
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