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08 December 2018, 03:09 | Edward Lowe
China Launches Probe To Become First Nation To Explore Dark Side Of The Moon
China launched a ground-breaking mission Saturday to land a spacecraft on the largely unexplored far side of the moon, demonstrating its growing ambitions as a space power to rival Russian Federation, the European Union and the U.S.
The landing will not occur until early January, when the probe will descend on thrusters and touch down on the rugged terrain of the lunar far side. Previous spacecraft have seen the far side of the Moon, but none has landed on it. Chang'e 4 is the next in the line of China's Chang'e missions, and would be the first craft to land on the Moon's far side.
The Chang´e-4 lunar probe mission - named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology - launched on a Long March 3B rocket from the southwestern Xichang launch centre at 2:23 am (1823 GMT), according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Because the moon is tidally locked with Earth, it presents only one side to Earth's view, with the other side hidden behind.
"The soft landing and exploration of the far side, which has never been done before, will gain first-hand information about the terrain and lunar soil components and other scientific data, which will help enrich our understanding of the moon and the universe", said Zhang He, executive director of the Chang'e-4 probe project.
The far side looks rather different to the more familiar near side. There are also few of the "mare" - dark basaltic "seas" created by lava flows - that are evident on the near side.
Ten experiments - six from China and four from overseas - include planting potatoes and other seeds.
Scientists believe the special electromagnetic environment and geological features on the far side of the moon will be suitable for low-frequency radio astronomical observation and research into lunar substances composition.
Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment, told Xinhua: "We have to keep the temperature in the "mini biosphere" within a range from 1 degree to 30 degrees, and properly control the humidity and nutrition".
An artist's conception shows the Chang'e-4 rover on the lunar surface.
China launched its Queqiao satellite earlier this year in order to communicate with the lander and rover. However, it has some important modifications.
The rover will carry a panoramic camera; a radar to probe beneath the lunar surface; an imaging spectrometer to identify minerals; and an experiment to examine the interaction of the solar wind (a stream of energised particles from the Sun) with the lunar surface.
No lander or rover has ever touched the surface there, positioning China as the first nation to explore the area.
Beijing is planning to send another lunar lander, Chang´e-5, next year to collect samples and bring them back to earth. China has promoted worldwide cooperation in its lunar exploration program, with four scientific payloads in the Chang'e-4 mission developed by scientists from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.
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