China to land lu­nar rover on dark side of the Moon

Unique op­por­tu­nity to study uni­verse: ex­perts

Global Times - Weekend - - TOP NEWS - By Zhang Hui

What ex­actly is on the dark side of the Moon? Is it home to aliens? Is it made of cheese? China is about to let ev­ery­one know the an­swer by launch­ing the world’s first lu­nar probe that will land and rove the far side of the Moon.

Chang’e-4 lu­nar probe, car­ried by Long March-3B car­rier rocket, is sched­uled to launch be­tween 2:14 and 2:36 am Satur­day from the Xichang satel­lite launch cen­ter in South­west China’s Sichuan Prov­ince, the Xichang gov­ern­ment said Fri­day.

The Chang’e-4 lu­nar lan­der and rover are ex­pected to touch down in the Aitken Basin of the lu­nar south pole on the far side of the Moon, ac­cord­ing to the Xin­hua News Agency.

Chi­nese space ex­perts said Chang’e-4’s land­ing will help hu­man­ity learn the ori­gin and evo­lu­tion of the Moon and im­prove the world’s ob­ser­va­tion of the uni­verse.

“Com­pared to the near side, the far side of the Moon is filled with deep basins and high moun­tains and has never been touched by hu­mans or ma­chines,” Jiao Weixin, a space sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Pek­ing Univer­sity, told the Global Times on Fri­day.

Sci­en­tists will col­lect data from both the near and far sides of the Moon, which will greatly im­prove hu­man­ity’s un­der­stand­ing of the Moon. To date more than 100 satel­lites have been sent to ex­plore the Moon, but none of them have landed on the far side, Jiao said.

As the far side of the Moon is shielded from elec­tro­mag­netic in­ter­fer­ence from the Earth, it’s an ideal place to con­duct low fre­quency ra­dio astronomy ob­ser­va­tions, al­low­ing for the study of a wide range of ob­jects in space, a Bei­jing-based aerospace ex­pert who re­quested anonymity, told the Global Times on Fri­day.

Jiao said a clean elec­tro­mag­netic en­vi­ron­ment can help sci­en­tists study so­lar ac­tiv­i­ties which could lead to im­proved ser­vice life of satel­lites.

The Chang’e-4 space­craft is named af­ter Chang’e, the Moon god­dess in Chi­nese le­gends and myths. Chang’e mis­sions are part of China’s lu­nar ex­plo­ration pro­ject, which was ini­ti­ated in 2004.

The pro­ject is China’s first step into deep-space ex­plo­ration, ac­cord­ing to the web­site of China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion (CNSA).

The pro­ject is di­vided into three phases – un­manned lu­nar ex­plo­ration, manned moon land­ings and the es­tab­lish­ment of a moon base. Lu­nar probes from Chang’e-1 to Chang’e-5 are the first phase.

China has suc­cess­fully launched Chang’e-1 to Chang’e-3, which have or­bited the Moon and made a soft land­ing on the near side of the Moon. Chang’e-5’s mis­sion will be to col­lect soil sam­ples on the Moon and re­turn them to Earth.

Ex­perts said that it’s not easy to make a soft land­ing on the dark side of the Moon.

One ma­jor prob­lem is com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the Earth and the far side of the Moon. China has solved the is­sue by launch­ing a re­lay satel­lite in May that will trans­mit sig­nals be­tween con­trollers on Earth and the lu­nar lan­der on the far side of the Moon, Jiao said.

The far side’s steep to­pog­ra­phy and ex­tremely low tem­per­a­ture at the lu­nar south pole re­quired the probe to be equipped with strong ob­sta­cle avoid­ance ca­pa­bil­ity and a tem­per­a­ture control sys­tem, he said.

The anony­mous space ex­pert said that Chang’e-4 has im­proved its bat­ter­ies en­abling it to op­er­ate on the Moon’s dark side.

The Chang’e-4 probe will carry a tin con­tain­ing potato seeds and ara­bidop­sis, a small plant re­lated to cab­bage and mus­tard, and prob­a­bly some silk­worm eggs to con­duct the first bi­o­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment on the Moon, which ex­perts said will help ac­cu­mu­late knowl­edge for build­ing a lu­nar base and long-term res­i­dence on the Moon, Xin­hua re­ported.

“The strong econ­omy and tech­nol­ogy, and steady and solid space pro­gram have ben­e­fited China, al­low­ing us to con­duct deep-space ex­plo­ration and touch down on the far side of the Moon,” Jiao said.

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