Chinese spacecraft lands on moon's far side

A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday landed on the dark side of the moon, marking the first time in history a country has sent a rover to the part of the moon that perpetually faces away from the Earth.

The Associated Press reported that the China National Space Administration called the touchdown of the Chang'e 4 a "new chapter in human lunar exploration." The spacecraft touched down at 10:26 a.m. China time, and was announced to the public on a state news broadcast at noon.

Only China, the former Soviet Union and the United States have sent spacecraft to the surface of the moon, though previous explorations have landed on the near side that faces Earth..

The AP reported that China plans to send a Chang'e 5 mission to the moon next year, with the goal of having it bring back samples to Earth. The country also has ambitions to launch a Mars rover in the next decade, the AP reported.

China's rapid progress in space exploration comes as the Trump administration has given the subject a renewed focus.

President Trump signed a directive in late 2017 aimed at sending American astronauts back to the moon. The directive lacked specifics but underscored the president's desire to restore America's presence in space.

Trump late last year directed the Pentagon to create a Space Command, a unified combatant command meant to lay the groundwork for his proposal to create a dedicated Space Force.