A Chinese lunar rover has landed on the far side of the moon, in a global first that boosts its ambitions to become a space superpower.

The Chang'e-4 probe touched down and sent a photo of the so-called "dark side" of the moon to the Queqiao satellite, which will relay communications to controllers on Earth, state broadcaster CCTV said.

China is pouring billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022, and of eventually sending humans to the moon.

The Chang'e-4 lunar probe mission - named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology - launched in December from the southwestern Xichang launch centre.

It is the second Chinese probe to land on the moon, following the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) rover mission in 2013.

Unlike the near side of the moon that offers many flat areas to touch down on, the far side is mountainous and rugged.

The moon is "tidally locked" to Earth in its rotation so the same side is always facing Earth.

Chang'e-4 is carrying six experiments from China and four from abroad, including low-frequency radio astronomical studies, which aim to take advantage of the lack of interference on the far side.

The rover will also conduct mineral and radiation tests, the China National Space Administration has said, according to state news agency Xinhua.

It was not until 1959 that the Soviet Union captured the first images of the moon's mysterious and heavily cratered "dark side".

No lander or rover has ever previously touched the surface there, and it is no easy technological feat.

China has been preparing for this moment for years.

A major challenge for such a mission was communicating with the robotic lander: as there is no direct "line of sight" for signals to the far side of the moon.

As a solution, China in May blasted the Queqiao ("Magpie Bridge") satellite into the moon's orbit, positioning it so that it can relay data and commands between the lander and Earth.

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In another extreme hurdle, during the lunar night, which lasts 14 Earth days, temperatures drop to as low as -173C.

During the lunar day, also lasting 14 Earth days, temperatures soar as high as 127C.

The rover's instruments have to withstand those fluctuations and it has to generate enough energy to sustain it during the long night.

Adding to the difficulties, Chang'e-4 was sent to the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region, which is known for its craggy and complex terrain.

Yutu also conquered those challenges and, after initial setbacks, ultimately surveyed the moon's surface for 31 months. Its success provided a major boost to China's space programme.

China is planning to send another lunar lander, Chang'e-5, next year to collect samples and bring them back to Earth.

It is among a slew of ambitious Chinese targets, which include a reusable launcher by 2021, a super-powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads heavier than those NASA and private rocket firm SpaceX can handle, a moon base, a permanently crewed space station, and a Mars rover.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, space commentator Leo Enright said the Chinese have made a big impact  on a geopolitical level.

Monitoring comments on one of the biggest social media platforms in China he said: "To read what young people are saying on Weibo this morning is really startling. 

"The one message that comes across is that they say, 'wow we're catching up - very soon we're going to overtake everybody else'. And that is not a bizarre suggestion.

"Europe and America are working towards sending men and women back to the moon in the next 20 years.

"The simple reality is that when those men and women land on the surface of moon, there may be Chinese people there before them."