Published: Sun, December 09, 2018
Science | By

China's rover blasts off to make history on moon's 'dark side'

China's rover blasts off to make history on moon's 'dark side'

China launched a lander and rover that could be the first to land on the far side of the moon, a mission that would make it a player in the competitive field of space exploration.

It's official. At 2:23 am in southern China, a rocket carrying unique payload successfully launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

The rover is expected to land around the New Year, and will conduct experiments and explore the untrodden terrain.

The probe is carrying six experiments from China and four from overseas. They include low-frequency radio astronomical studies, which aim to take advantage of the lack of interference on the far side.

It may carry plant seeds and silkworm eggs, according to Xinhua.

"Chang´e-4 is humanity´s first probe to land on and explore the far side of the moon", said the mission´s chief commander He Rongwei of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the main state-owned space contractor.

What is the rover's mission?

Since the moon's revolution cycle is the same as its rotation cycle, the same side always faces the earth.

If successful, the mission would propel the Chinese space program to a leading position in one of the most sensational sides of selenology.

The Moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate that it orbits our planet, so the far side is never visible from Earth.

The far side is a far more rugged and mountainous surface than the well-studied near side of the Moon.

No lander or rover has ever touched the surface there, positioning China as the first nation to explore the area. "We will be like deaf and blind", he said, AFP reported. China launched its Queqiao satellite earlier this year in order to communicate with the lander and rover. The Von Kármán Crater is a 115-mile-wide (186 kilometers) hole on the moon's surface - it is also the mission's expected landing site.

Advancing China's space program has been a priority of its leaders, with President Xi Jinping calling for China to establish itself as a space power.

China has promoted global cooperation in its lunar exploration program, with four scientific payloads of the Chang'e-4 mission developed by scientists from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia. In 2018, China has already invested $217 million in space companies, nearly matching the $230 million invested in all of 2017.

China, which is investing billions in its military-run space programme, hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022.

China's ambitious plans for moon exploration won't end with the probe: the country plans to land astronauts on the moon by 2030, which would mark the first time humans have set foot on the astrological body since the early 1970s. The Chang'e-3 lunar lander was the first since 1976.

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