Chinese spacecraft makes first landing on far side of the moon

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral

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.

#BREAKING: China's Chang'e-4 probe successfully made the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon on the South Pole-Aitken basin Thursday morning, a major milestone in space exploration.

The Chinese lunar probe, including a lander and a rover, was launched on 8 December by a Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

Spacecraft have taken pictures of the moon's far side before, but no lander has ever touched down there.

China National Space Administration has said that Chang'e 4's scientific tasks included astronomical observation using low-frequency radio; surveying the terrain and land forms; detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure; and measuring neutron radiation and neutral atoms - all to develop an understanding of the environment on the moon's far side, also called the dark side.

The landing "lifted the mysterious veil" from the far side of the moon and "opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration", the broadcaster said.

The Chinese probe had been circling the Moon in an elliptical orbit in preparation for landing since Sunday.

The move marks a global first that boosts Beijing's ambitions to become a space superpower, state media said.

China, which is investing billions in its military-run space programme, has previously said it hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022.

In addition to home-grown scientific equipment, the Chang'e 4 mission also involves four scientific payloads developed by scientists from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

China plans to send its Chang-e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples - the first time that will have been done since 1976.