In a historical mission, China has successfully launched the first ever spacecraft to the far side of the moon.
The unmanned probe Chang’e 4, with an onboard rover, has been launched on the way to the moon to try to land on its far side, something that had never been done before.
It is another step in the ambitious Chinese space exploration program.
Chang’e 4 (so called in honor of a goddess who, according to Chinese mythology, lives on the Moon) will land in the first days of January; a few hours later its rover will emerge, and begin to explore the lunar landscape and transmit data that will clarify some of the main questions on the hidden side of our satellite.
The far side of the moon, not visible from Earth, is very different from the ‘nearside’ of the moon. If the exposed face shows flat “seas” of basalt and relatively few craters, the other side is full of craters and its composition seems different.
The Chinese mission will collect data on the history and geology of this unknown area of Earth’s natural satellite.
The spacecraft aims to perform a soft landing in the Von Kármán crater.
This crater, with 186 kilometers in diameter, is part of the South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest known impact crater in the solar system and one of the oldest on the Moon.
Scientists believe that the basin may contain material from the lunar subsoil, which could provide important information about its formation and structure.
No one has ever tried landing on the far side.
Until now, a mission similar to that of Chang’e 4 had not been attempted due to technical difficulties.
With the Moon interposed between the Earth and the spaceship, it was complicated to establish a communication system that would allow the engineers to send instructions to the probe for its descent to the surface.
The same problem had to be solved for the exploring rover on the surface.
But the Chinese solved this issue relatively easily: they sent a satellite to act as an intermediary.
China sent its Queqiao satellite in May, which entered into orbit around the moon in June.
The satellite will receive instructions from mission engineers on Earth and will forward the instructions to the probe and the rover, and will also allow for data to be transmitted from the lander and the rover to engineers on Earth.
Chang’e 4 will also include a number of different scientific experiments, in addition to exploring the lunar surface.
Chang’e 4 carries silkworm eggs, potato seeds, and flowers and will allow scientists to observe germination, growth, and respiration in low gravity condition.
In 2019, China plans to send a new probe to the Moon, Chang’e 5, whose mission will be to collect soil samples and bring them back to Earth.