China set to launch first-ever space­craft to the far side of the moon

Tehran Times - - SCIENCE -

Early in the New Year, if all goes well, the Chi­nese space­craft Chang’e-4 will ar­rive where no craft has been be­fore: the far side of the moon. The mis­sion is sched­uled to launch from Xichang Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter in Sichuan Prov­ince on De­cem­ber 8. The craft, com­pris­ing a lan­der and a rover, will then en­ter the Moon’s or­bit, be­fore touch­ing down on the sur­face.

If the land­ing is suc­cess­ful, the mis­sion’s main job will be to in­ves­ti­gate this side of the lu­nar sur­face, which is pep­pered with many small craters. The lan­der will also con­duct the first ra­dio as­tron­omy ex­per­i­ments from the far side of the Moon — and the first in­ves­ti­ga­tions to see whether plants will grow in the low-grav­ity lu­nar en­vi­ron­ment.

“This mis­sion is def­i­nitely a sig­nif­i­cant and im­por­tant ac­com­plish­ment in lu­nar ex­plo­ration,” says Car­olyn van der Bogert, a plan­e­tary ge­ol­o­gist at West­fälis­che Wil­helms Univer­sity in Mün­ster, Ger­many.

The ul­ti­mate goal of the China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion (CNSA) is to cre­ate a Moon base for fu­ture hu­man ex­plo­ration there, although it has not an­nounced when that might hap­pen. Chang’e-4 will be the coun­try’s sec­ond craft to ‘soft’ land on the lu­nar sur­face, fol­low­ing Chang’e-3’s touch­down in 2013.

The CNSA has re­mained tight-lipped about many of the mis­sion’s de­tails, in­clud­ing the land­ing site. The most likely lo­ca­tion is in­side a 186-kilo­me­ter-wide crater called Von Kár­mán, says Zongcheng Ling, who stud­ies the for­ma­tion and evo­lu­tion of plan­e­tary bod­ies at Shan­dong Univer­sity in Wei­hai and is a mem­ber of the mis­sion’s science team. “We sci­en­tists are very happy” to have the chance to visit the far side, says Ling.

“It is a key area to an­swer sev­eral im­por­tant ques­tions about the early his­tory of the moon, in­clud­ing its in­ter­nal struc­ture and ther­mal evo­lu­tion,” says Bo Wu, a geoin­for­mati­cian at Hong Kong Poly­tech­nic Univer­sity, who helped de­scribe the to­pog­ra­phy and ge­o­mor­phol­ogy of this site.

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