China launches rover for first far side moon land­ing

Muscat Daily - - WORLD -

Bei­jing, China - China launched a rover early on Satur­day 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 de­ity 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’e-4 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 stateowned 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 ten 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 lowfre­quency 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.


A Long March 3B rocket lifts off from the Xichang launch cen­tre in Xichang, in Sichuan prov­ince on Satur­day

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