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China has successfully launched its Chang’e 4 spacecraft toward the moon, a daring mission to land on the lunar farside for the first time in history.

The launch took place from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province on a Long March 3B rocket today, December 7, at 1:23 pm Eastern time (2:23 am local time in China). The spacecraft will now begin a three-day journey to the moon before remaining in polar lunar orbit until a landing attempt is made by the end of the year at the earliest. “They are talking about around December 31 or January 1,” says Bernard Foing, director of the European Space Agency’s International Lunar Exploration Working Group, who was part of a European collaboration with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on the mission. So far, the spacecraft appears to be in good health.

China will use the preceding three weeks in lunar orbit to take images of the surface, and ensure the landing site is clear of obstacles. Whenever it occurs, the seven-step landing process—which will be entirely autonomous—will last just 11 minutes from the deorbit burn to touching down on the surface. Chang’e 4 is intended to land in the 186-kilometer-wide Von Kármán Crater in the South Pole–Aitken Basin on the moon; the latter feature is the moon’s largest-known impact crater at about 2,500 kilometers across. This scientifically fascinating region could yield invaluable data about how the moon formed and evolved, owing to exposed mantle at this location.

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