China's Chang'e-4 probe soft-lands on moon's far side

Pablo Tucker
September 13, 2019

The South Pole-Aitken Basin, which measures 2,500km in diameter and is 13km deep, is also the largest, deepest and oldest impact crater on the Moon, and may yield secrets of its evolution to the Chang'e-4. Humans have managed to take pictures of this region, but no human-made probe has ever explored this dark, cold part of the lunar surface.

Photo provided by the China National Space Administration on January 3, 2019 shows Yutu-2, China's lunar rover, leaving a trace after touching the surface of the far side of the moon.

The Chinese probe comprises a lander and smaller six-wheeled rover that will explore the moon's surface.

The system will involve Chang'e 4 communicating with China's Queqiao satellite, the only way it will be possible for communications to make their way from the moon's far side back to the team on Earth.

Close-up view of the wheel of the Chang'e-4 rover 'Yutu 2

The unmanned lunar missions are part of China's ambitions to join the United States and Russian Federation as a major space power.

In 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States, and in 2017 it said it was preparing to send a person to the moon.

China's lunar program began with orbiting observatories, Chang'e-1 and -2, in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

Launched from Xichang in southwest China's Sichuan province on Dec 8, the spacecraft is on a mission to seek out what lies on this mysterious "dark side" of the Moon, which can not be seen from the Earth as the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth and rotates at the same rate that it orbits the Earth.

Pink Floyd isn't the only one singing about the dark side of the moon now-China is too. Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia contributed payloads that will measure radiation and use low-frequency radio astronomy to listen for faint signals lingering in the cosmos since the formation of the universe's first stars, among other things.

A crewed lunar mission is also under consideration.

This is the very first time that any country has performed a soft landing or rover deployment on the far side of Earth's natural satellite, and it's a huge win for Chinese scientists who have been planning out this mission for years. Its plans include establishing a permanent manned space station, a manned lunar landing, and eventually probes to Mars.

"Building a space power is a dream that we persistently pursue", he said in an interview with CCTV at the Beijing Aerospace Flight and Control Center.

"China has never said it is in a space race with the United States, and has no such intention", said Professor Wang Xiangsui, director of the Research Centre of Strategic Issues at Beihang University.

It's a milestone for China's lunar exploration project. "And we're gradually realizing it".

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