Photos: A Collection of Lunar Firsts

Fifty years after humankind first laid eyes on the far side of the moon, a Chinese spacecraft called Chang’e 4 gently touched down and released a rover onto the unexplored terrain Thursday. The far side is incredibly difficult to reach; mission control can’t send radio signals to spacecraft if they’re out of sight. To communicate with Chang’e 4, China put a separate probe in orbit around the moon to relay messages back and forth. Then again, the entire moon is difficult to reach. Space agencies have launched dozens of ambitious missions to Earth’s companion, succeeding miraculously at some times and failing spectacularly at others. After Americans landed on the moon, investment in lunar exploration waned in the United States and Russia. But interest abounds elsewhere, in China, India, and Europe. Humanity has already achieved many lunar firsts, but others are still to come.

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