BEIJING: China has launched a rover designed to land on the other side of the moon, a global initiative that would boost Beijing's ambitions to become a space superpower, state media reported.
O Chang-e-4 lunar probe mission – named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology – released early yesterday in a Long March 3B rocket from the southwest launch center Xichang at 2.23am (local time), according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The takeoff marked the beginning of a long journey to the other side of the moon for the Chang-e-4 mission, scheduled to land around the New Year to conduct experiments and survey of untrodden terrain.
"Chang-e-4 is the first probe of humanity to land and explore the other side of the moon, "said mission commander He Rongwei of China's Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the state's largest space contractor.
"This mission is also the most significant deep space exploration research project in the world in 2018," he said.
Unlike the side closest to the moon that is "locked to the sea" and is always facing the Earth, and offers many flat areas to touch, the other side is hilly and rugged.
It was not until 1959 that the Soviet Union captured the first images of the highly cratered surface, disqualifying some of the mysteries of the "dark side" of the moon.
No lander or rover ever touched the surface, positioning China as the first nation to explore the area.
In the past 10 or 20 years, China has systematically pointed to the first few that America and the Soviet Union did in the 1960s and 1970s on space exploration, "said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
"This is one of the first times they've done something that no one else has done before."
It is not an easy technological feat – China has been preparing for that moment for years.
A major challenge for this mission is to communicate with the robotic probe: as the far side of the Moon always points away from Earth, there is no direct "line of sight" for signals.
As a solution, China launched the Queqiao ("Magpie Bridge") satellite in orbit of the Moon in May, positioning it to transmit data and commands between the probe and the earth.
In addition to the difficulties, Chang-e-4 is being sent to the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region – known for its rugged and complex terrain – state media said.
The probe is conducting six experiments from China and four from abroad.
They include low-frequency radio-astronomical studies – aimed at taking advantage of the lack of interference from the opposite side – in addition to radiation and mineral tests, Xinhua said, according to the China National Space Administration.
The experiments also involve planting potatoes and other seeds, according to reports in the Chinese media.
Beijing is pouring billions into its military space program, hoping to have a manned space station by 2022, and eventually send humans to the moon. – AFP