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Yutu 2 leaves its first tracks after being released by Chang’e 4. Photo: Xinhua

First photo of China’s lunar rover Yutu 2 leaving ‘footprints’ on far side of moon

  • Humankind’s first tracks on the far side captured in photo sent back to Earth
  • Rover released to begin mapping the moon’s inner structures and analysing soil and rock samples

China’s lunar craft Chang’e 4 has released its rover Yutu 2 to explore the far side of the moon after making the world’s first soft landing on the moon’s uncharted side on Thursday.

Photos of the rover leaving humankind’s first tracks there on Thursday night were sent back to Earth by the lander after the vehicle separated from it.

The images were sent via the relay satellite Queqiao, designed to allow radio communication between the far side of the moon and Earth without it being blocked by the near hemisphere.

The spacecraft – a lander and a rover – was launched on December 8 and touched down in the South Pole-Aitken basin, the moon’s oldest and biggest impact crater, on Thursday morning Hong Kong time before sending back its first photograph of the surroundings.

The China National Space Administration, which called the landing “a milestone for China’s space programme”, said on Friday that the mission had “lifted the mysterious veil” from the far side of the moon, which is permanently blocked from view from Earth, and “opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration”.

The rover will explore the surrounding area, use ground-penetrating radar to map the moon’s inner structures, analyse soil and rock samples for minerals and chemicals with potential economic value, and activate a radio telescope to search for possible signals from distant universes.

The craft also carried a canister filled with air, soil, water, bacterium, silkworm eggs, the seeds of a small flowering plant and a potato. Scientists hope that the small ecosystem will spring to life and produce the first blossoming flowers on the moon in about three months’ time.