The potential landing sites.
The potential landing sites.
Image: Phil Stooke/screengrab via Andrew Jones for Planetary

China hopes its Moon rover and its instruments can add to our knowledge of the kinds of events taking place in the solar system billions of years ago, and carry out experiments on how to sustain life on the Moon. The mission is also hoping to listen for signals from the universe’s early days using a radio antenna on board the Queqiao, the relay communication satellite that’s helping Chang’e-4 talk to scientists on earth.

Chang’e-4’s landing is the second significant space advance in 2019 after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sent back pictures of Ultima Thule this week from the edge of the solar system, the farthest object ever explored, some 4 billion miles from the Sun.

Soon after the news was confirmed, congratulations started pouring in.

Martin Wieser, of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, which developed an instrument that will investigate how solar wind interacts with the lunar surface, called the landing a “great step,” but noted that tricky hours lie ahead, as the lander deploys its rover and sets up instruments.

“The challenges are not over yet: now all systems on the lander and rover need to be commissioned on the surface and it will take a while until we will get the first science data,” Wieser told Quartz. “But with the successful landing we are very confident that we will get there!”

Philip Stooke, an associate physics and astronomy professor at Canada’s Western University who studies planetary mapping, said he was looking forward to seeing the rover drive on the Moon. “This is a great achievement and a way for China to show the world what it can do,” he said.

China’s next step is to launch Chang’e-5 to get samples from the Moon’s near side later this year. China’s ultimate goal is to send humans back to the Moon, a goal it could probably achieve a little over a decade from now, according to Brian Harvey, author of China In Space, a history of China’s space program.

In an email to Quartz, Harvey called today’s landing “a daring mission that required the highest levels of engineering skill,” noting ahead of the confirmation, “This is the first time that the Chinese space program has done something that no other country has done before.”

This story was updated Jan. 3 with additional commentary on the landing.

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