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 scientific tasks of the Chang'e-4 mission include low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon, the China National Space Administration announced.
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.
With its Chang'e 4 mission, China hopes to be the first country to make a soft landing, which is a landing of a spacecraft during which no serious damage is incurred.
The Soviet Union was the first nation to shed light on the moon's dark side when it captured the first images of its surface in 1959, exposing a mountainous and craggy geography radically different from the more familiar half. The rover will land in the 3.9 billion year old "Von Kármán" crater, where it will take measurements and conduct experiments with the potential to uncover new information about the moon's formation and history.
A major challenge for such a mission is communicating with the robotic lander: as the far side of the moon always points away from earth, there is no direct "line of sight" for signals.
Chinese state media said the area being targeted was the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region.
It may also carry plant seeds and silkworm eggs, according to Xinhua.
The Chang'e 4 mission is a step in that direction, significant for the engineering expertise needed to explore and settle the moon, McDowell said.
During the lunar night - which lasts 14 earth days - temperatures will drop as low as minus 173C, while during the lunar day, also lasting 14 earth days, temperatures rocket as high as 127C.
China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, making it only the third country after Russian Federation and the U.S.to do so.
Beijing is planning to send another lunar lander, Chang'e-5, next year to collect samples and bring them back to earth.