China is launching robots to study Moon's 'unexplored' far side

Pablo Tucker
January 5, 2019

As in the case of the journey, the "Chang'e 3", the first Chinese probe that put 2013 on the moon, it'll take two weeks or a few days longer, until the "Chang'e 4" reaches the surface of the moon.

Prior to this, no other mission launched to the far side because there is no direct line of sight between Earth and that part of Moon.

It's also carrying a 3 kg (6.6 lb) container of seeds and silkworm larvae to study whether they can grow on the surface of the Moon - an experiment that could have long-term implications for a lunar colony.

The mission will lift off atop a Long March 3B rocket.

Chang'e 4 will touchdown in Von Kármán Crater within the South Pole-Aitken basin.

Believe it or not, the far side of the moon is also something of a coveted spot for astronomers who have talked for decades of building observatories on the lunar backside, far away from the bothersome interference of Earth's atmosphere. That is why the relay satellite named Queqiao will be responsible for transmitting signals between the Earth station, and the Chang'e-4 lander and rover. There are indications that the landing could take place around january 3, because of the sunrise then over the Von Karman crater.

Though often referred to as the "dark side", this face of the Moon is also illuminated by the Sun and has the same phases as the near side; "dark" in this context simply means "unseen".

The Chang'e 4 lunar mission lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province in the early morning, confirmed by the Twitter account of the country's state-run Xinhua news agency. Researchers will keep tabs on how these organisms live and develop on the lunar surface.

China launched a relay satellite called Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) on May 21, which entered orbit around 65,000 kilometers (40,300 miles) from the moon on June 14. It will also reportedly experiment on low-gravity plant growth. Moreover, the craters on the surface of the moon were thought to have been created during a period called Late Heavy Bombardment when a huge number of asteroids impacted the inner planets.

If Chang'e 4 is successful, Maciel said that it could open a new avenue of astronomy in the years to come.

The nation launched the Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 spacecraft to lunar orbit in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

The only region of the moon that was previously explored by robotic and manned missions is the near-side - the region that is always facing Earth - because it allows easier communication with ground control.

And then there's the crewed side of things. The launch of a Mars wanderer is gotten ready for the mid-2020s. The first and second Chang'e missions were created to gather data from orbit, while the third and fourth were built for surface operations.

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