BEIJING -- China became the first country to make a soft landing on the far side of the moon Thursday, bolstering its signature "Made in China 2025" initiative and taking a major step toward becoming the world's third space power along with the U.S. and Russia by 2030.
The Chang'e 4 craft, launched Dec. 8 from Sichuan Province, also succeeded in sending back images of the moon's far side after touching down, state-run Chinese Central Television reported. The unmanned lunar probe will now survey the unexplored region's geology.
China started its lunar program in 2004 and in 2013 became the third country, behind the former Soviet Union and the U.S., to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. Building on the success of its current mission, Beijing is moving forward with plans to build a research base on the moon. It is also said to be considering the mining there of helium-3, a rare substance on Earth that can be used as a fuel in nuclear fusion power generation.
Space development is a priority for Beijing's "Made in China 2025" initiative to develop cutting-edge industries. The lunar landing follows the completion of China's homegrown global positioning system, the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, last month with the start of worldwide service.
China now aims to launch a Mars explorer in 2020 and complete its own Earth-orbiting space station around 2022.
The U.S. is growing increasingly alarmed because a more advanced Chinese space program could be translated into military strength. As the two countries spar on trade, their rivalry is set to extend into outer space.