China launches rover for first far side of the moon land­ing

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - SUNDAY WORLD -

BEI­JING: China launched a rover early yes­ter­day des­tined to land on the far side of the moon, a global first that would boost Bei­jing’s am­bi­tions to be­come a space su­per­power, state me­dia said.

The Chang’e-4 lu­nar probe mis­sion – named af­ter the moon god­dess in Chi­nese mythol­ogy – launched on a Long March 3B rocket from the south­west­ern Xichang launch cen­tre at 2.23am (1823 GMT), ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial Xinhua news agency.

The blast-off marked the start of a long jour­ney to the far side of the moon for the Chang’e4 mis­sion, ex­pected to land around the New Year to carry out ex­per­i­ments and sur­vey the un­trod­den ter­rain.

“Chang’e-4 is hu­man­ity’s first probe to land on and ex­plore the far side of the moon,” said the mis­sion’s chief com­man­der He Rong­wei of China Aerospace Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Corp, the main state-owned space con­trac­tor.

“This mis­sion is also the most mean­ing­ful deep space ex­plo­ration re­search project in the world in 2018,” He said, ac­cord­ing to state-run Global Times.

Un­like the near side of the moon that is “tidally locked” and al­ways faces the earth, and of­fers many flat ar­eas to touch down on, the far side is moun­tain­ous and rugged.

It was not un­til 1959 that the Soviet Union cap­tured the first im­ages of the heav­ily cratered sur­face, un­cloak­ing some of the mys­tery of the moon’s “dark side”.

No lan­der or rover has ever touched the sur­face there, po­si­tion­ing China as the first na­tion to ex­plore the area.

“China over the past 10 or 20 years has been sys­tem­at­i­cally tick­ing off the var­i­ous firsts that Amer­ica and the Soviet Union did in the 1960s and 1970s in 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 no easy tech­no­log­i­cal feat – China has been pre­par­ing for this mo­ment for years.

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.

As a so­lu­tion, China in May blasted the Que­qiao (Mag­pie Bridge) satel­lite into the moon’s or­bit, po­si­tion­ing it so that it can re­lay data and com­mands be­tween the lan­der and earth.

Adding to the dif­fi­cul­ties, Chang’e-4 is be­ing sent to the Aitken Basin in the lu­nar south pole re­gion – known for its craggy and com­plex ter­rain – state me­dia has said.

The probe is car­ry­ing six ex­per­i­ments from China and four from abroad.

They in­clude low-fre­quency ra­dio as­tro­nom­i­cal stud­ies aim­ing to take ad­van­tage of the lack of in­ter­fer­ence on the far side – as well as min­eral and ra­di­a­tion tests, Xinhua cited the China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion as say­ing.

The ex­per­i­ments also in­volve plant­ing potato and other seeds, ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese me­dia re­ports.

Bei­jing is pour­ing bil­lions into its mil­i­tary-run space pro­gramme, with hopes of hav­ing a crewed space sta­tion by 2022, and of even­tu­ally send­ing hu­mans to the moon.

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.

“The main thing about this mis­sion is not sci­ence, this is a tech­nol­ogy mis­sion,” he said.

Chang’e-4 will be the sec­ond Chi­nese probe to land on the moon, fol­low­ing the Yutu (Jade Rab­bit) rover mis­sion in 2013. — AFP

Chang’e-4 is hu­man­ity’s first probe to land on and ex­plore the far side of the moon. — He Rong­wei, mis­sion’s chief com­man­der of China Aerospace Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Corp

A Long March-3B rocket car­ry­ing Chang’e 4 lu­nar probe takes off from the Xichang Satel­lite Launch Cen­tre in Sichuan prov­ince, China. — Reuter photo

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