China on Saturday night became the third country after the United States and the former Soviet Union to successfully soft land a spacecraft on the moon.
The mission wasn’t a manned one but the successful landing of the craft puts China right among the few countries in the world taking a lead in space.
Technicalities aside, the successful landing would also contribute to China’s growing confidence in space technology; the state media has already touted the mission as part of President Xi Jinping’s concept of the “Chinese Dream”.
India and China are often said to be the two countries in Asia competing against each other in the space race. China and its state-controlled media has been keenly following India’s mission to the Mars.
Compared to the last century's space race between the United States and the former Soviet Union, mankind's current return to the moon is more based on curiosity and exploration of the unknown universe," Sun Huixian, deputy engineer-in-chief in charge of the second phase of China's lunar program.
“China's lunar program is an important component of mankind's activities to explore peaceful use of space,” Sun said.
But on Saturday night as the first pictures of the Chang'e-3 lunar probe landing on the moon were broadcast, tense scientists at the space mission headquarters in Sichuan erupted in spontaneous applause.
In technical terms, a hard landing – as opposed to a soft landing -- would broadly mean a crash landing.
Earlier in the month, China had launched the Chang'e-3 lunar probe with the country's first moon rover aboard with the state media calling it “a significant step toward deep space exploration”.
“The lunar probe began to carry out soft-landing on the moon at 9 pm Saturday and touched down in Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, 11 minutes later, according to Beijing Aerospace Control Center,” state-run Xinhua news agency said in a report flashed soon after the landing.
Compared to the US and the Soviet Russia, which have successfully conducted 13 soft-landings on the moon, China's soft-landing mission designed the suspension and obstacle-avoiding phases to survey the landing area much more precisely through fitted detectors, scientists told Xinhua.
The report added that the successful launch was only the beginning for Chang'e-3’s mission.
“Over the coming months, it will have to withstand multiple tests of soft landing, the separation of the rover from the lander, survival on the moon surface and remote control.
The moon rover is tasked with surveying the moon's geological structure, surface substances and looking for natural resources.”