Probe head­ing to­ward moon’s far side

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - By ZHAO LEI [email protected]­

Mankind will soon have a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the far side of the moon as a Chi­nese lu­nar ex­plorer is sched­uled to land there next month.

The Chang’e 4 robotic probe, the first man-made ob­ject to make a soft land­ing on the moon’s far side, was lifted atop a Long March 3B car­rier rocket early Satur­day from the Xichang Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter, Sichuan province, on an ex­pe­di­tion to the lu­nar re­gion that never faces us.

The space­craft is ex­pected to jour­ney 26 days be­fore reach­ing its des­ti­na­tion, China Aerospace Science and Tech­nol­ogy Corp said, pre­dict­ing Jan 2 as the land­ing date.

Dur­ing its mul­ti­week flight, the probe will en­ter a lu­nar-trans­fer tra­jec­tory and then or­bit around the moon be­fore mak­ing an au­tonomous soft land­ing at Aitken basin near the lu­nar South Pole, said the China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Tidal forces on Earth slow the moon’s ro­ta­tion to the point where the same side al­ways faces Earth. The other side, most of which is never vis­i­ble from Earth, is the far side of the moon.

Though the far side has been ex­ten­sively pho­tographed by space­craft, be­gin­ning with a Soviet probe in 1959, no probe had ever made a soft land­ing there, so sci­en­tists around the world have yet to con­duct close ob­ser­va­tions and sur­veys of the re­gion.

The pro­gram’s sci­en­tific tasks are to per­form low-fre­quency as­tro­nom­i­cal ob­ser­va­tions, sur­vey land­scapes, min­eral com­po­si­tions and ge­o­log­i­cal struc­tures, and con­duct en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search on chem­i­cal el­e­ments and sub­atomic par­ti­cles, the ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­plained.

The Chang’e 4 mis­sion will en­able sci­en­tists to dis­cover more about Earth’s largest satel­lite. They can also take ad­van­tage of the far side’s shield against Earth’s in­ter­fer­ence to make clearer ob­ser­va­tions into deep space, sci­en­tists said.

Zou Yongliao, head of the Chi­nese Academy of Sciences’ Lu­nar and Deep-space Ex­plo­rations De­part­ment, said the South Pole-Aitken basin has a di­am­e­ter of about 2,500 kilo­me­ters and is around 12 km deep, not­ing it is the largest and deep­est known basin in the so­lar sys­tem.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions by the Chang’e 4 probe will help re­searchers bet­ter un­der­stand the moon’s evo­lu­tion, Earth and the en­tire uni­verse, Zou said.

He added that astronomers around the world have been dream­ing of ob­serv­ing low-fre­quency cos­mic rays from the far side of the moon.

Chang’e 4 con­sists of two parts, a lan­der and a rover, and the two carry mul­ti­ple sci­en­tific in­stru­ments, ac­cord­ing to Wu Weiren, chief en­gi­neer of China’s lu­nar ex­plo­ration pro­gram. The probe was de­signed based on its pre­de­ces­sor, the Chang’e 3, with some mod­i­fi­ca­tions, he said.

Chang’e 4’s rover has six wheels, two so­lar pan­els, a radar dish as well as mul­ti­ple cam­eras. The rover is the light­est of its kind, weigh­ing just 140 kilo­grams, Wu said.

The Chang’e 4 mis­sion also uses ap­pa­ra­tus devel­oped by the Nether­lands, Swe­den, Ger­many and Saudi Ara­bia.

China started send­ing robotic probes to the moon in 2007, and has car­ried out sev­eral lu­nar mis­sions since then.

The Chang’e 5 mis­sion is set to take place in 2019 and will put a rover on the lu­nar sur­face to take sam­ples and then bring them back to Earth.

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