The first close-up photo of the Moon’s farside, taken by a monitoring camera on the Chang’e-4 lander showed the direction the rover would drive on to the lunar surface. Top of image shows the rails the rover will use to access the surface.

China’s Chang’e-4 is in getting down to business mode as the first controlled farside landing in history on January 3rd (Beijing local time).

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is slated to overfly the area in coming weeks and may possibly spot the Chang’e-4 and its rover.

This was done previously for Chang’e-3, the first Chinese landing on the Moon’s nearside back in December 2013.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter can use its super-powerful camera to spot the Chang’e-4, as it did in imaging China’s earlier Moon lander, Chang’e-3.
LROC NAC view of the Chang’e 3 lander (large arrow) and rover (small arrow) just before sunset on their first day of lunar exploration. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Giant cliffs

“It’s an incredible landing spot. Just alone the view is going to be spectacular, such as giant cliffs off in the distance,” Robinson told Inside Outer Space. He is principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LROC camera system at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Safe on the farside, Chang’e 4 set down somewhere in this NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LROC image obtained July 17, 2010. The lines connect craters seen in the Chang’e 4 descent image (CNSA/CLEP) with the same craters seen in the LROC image.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

LRO will be able to scout for Chang’e-4 about midnight, January 31st, Robinson said.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Diverse landforms

Robinson said that a human visit to that site would be scientifically significant given so many diverse landforms.

A future expedition, for instance, could document the nature of the farside crust, age date highlands material, even check out a landslide within the Von Kármán crater.

“I mean, I want to go,” Robinson said.

Relay satellite

Once Chang’e-4 decelerated near the Moon and successfully orbited the Moon on Dec. 12, 2018, it proceeded with orbit modification twice and carried out testing four times with the relay satellite, Queqiao, meaning Magpie Bridge in Chinese.

Queqiao becomes the key medium between Chang’e-4 and the Earth.

Control room for Chang’e-4 touchdown.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

The touchdown of Chang’e-4 relied on the relay satellite to receive and send communications to and from the uncharted side.

Historic landing

Jim Head, a leading lunar expert at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, saluted China’s achievement:

“Congratulations to our Chinese science, engineering, operations and management team colleagues for the successful launch and operation of the Queqiao communications relay satellite enabling the successful and historic landing of the Chang’e 4 spacecraft on the far side of the Moon!”

“We look forward to the exploration of Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin,” Head said, “and other Chinese Lunar Exploration Program exploration destinations in the future!”

Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

“Congratulations to Chang’e 4 scientists and engineers,” adds Carle Pieters, noted Moon expert, also at Brown University.


“Landing on the far side of the Moon opens the other half of the 8th Continent for detailed exploration,” Pieters said. “What a wonderful way to start 2019!!”

Landing region

A summary of the geology of the Chang’e-4 landing region can be found in the Journal of Geophysical Research: 5294 – Huang, J., Z. Xiao, J. Flahaut, M. Martinot, J. W. Head III, X. Xiao, M. Xie, and L. Xiao (2018), Geological characteristics of Von Kármán crater, northwestern South Pole-Aitken basin: Chang’E-4 landing site region, J. Geophys. Res., 123, doi: 10.1029/2018JE005577.

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Leonard David is author of Moon Rush: The New Space Race to be published by National Geographic in May 2019.

To pre-order Moon Rush: The New Space Race, go to:

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