Chinese spacecraft is first to land on far side of moon

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China's Chang'e-4 is the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the moon.

A Chinese spacecraft has made the first successful landing ever on the far side of the moon, a mission seen as an important step as the country looks to push forward its space programme.

The official China Central Television said Thursday the lunar explorer Chang'e 4 had touched down at 10am time local (3pm NZ time).

The probe landed at 10:26am Beijing time and relayed a photo of the "dark side" of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, which will relay communications between controllers on Earth and the far side of the moon.

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In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Chang'e 4 lunar probe launches from the the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.

Unlike the near side of the moon that offers many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is mountainous and rugged.

It was not until 1959 that the Soviet Union captured the first images of the moon's mysterious and heavily cratered "dark side".

The report goes on to quote China National Space Administration as saying that the major part of operation objectives of Chang'e 4 would be studying the terrain, astronomical observation, assessing the mineral composition and taking stock of neutron radiation and neutral atoms in an effort to understand the environment of this part of the Moon.

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No lander or rover has ever previously touched the surface there, and it is no easy technological feat - China has been preparing for this moment for years.

During the lunar day, also lasting 14 Earth days, temperatures soar as high as 127 C (261 F).

The pioneering landing demonstrates China's growing ambitions as a space power.

It would also like to develop a moon base through several manned missions. Chang'e 5 will include a lunar lander and a rover that could return to Earth after collecting samples and performing lunar surveys.

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