China space probe aims for far side of the moon

Houston Chronicle - - BUSINESS -

China’s am­bi­tious space pro­gram is go­ing where no other pro­gram has gone be­fore: the far side of the moon.

The Chang’e-4 lu­nar probe is set to launch this month, state me­dia has re­ported. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, the space­craft — named af­ter the myth­i­cal Moon God­dess — will land within weeks in the moon’s Aitken Basin, where it will take im­ages of the sur­face and sam­ples of the soil.

Land­ing in this un­ex­plored re­gion will en­able Chang’e-4’s rover to bet­ter study the moon and space be­cause of the lack of elec­tro­mag­netic in­ter­fer­ence from Earth. The rover is equipped with a low-fre­quency ra­dio spec­trom­e­ter to help sci­en­tists un­der­stand “how the ear­li­est stars were ig­nited and how our cos­mos emerged from dark­ness af­ter the Big Bang,” ac­cord­ing to China’s of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency.

The probe also will carry a tin filled with the seeds of pota­toes and ara­bidop­sis, a small flow­er­ing plant re­lated to cab­bage and mus­tard, Xin­hua re­ported. Sci­en­tists will test whether the plants can grow while on the moon.

Chang’e-4 also may carry silk­worm eggs to con­duct the first bi­o­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment. None of the gov­ern­ment agen­cies in­volved in the space pro­gram — in­clud­ing the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion for Sci­ence, Tech­nol­ogy and In­dus­try for Na­tional De­fense; China’s Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion; and China’s Lu­nar and Deep Space Ex­plo­ration — have pub­lished de­tails of the Chang’e-4 launch.

In May, China launched a re­lay satel­lite called Que­qiao that’s now or­bit­ing about 280,000 miles from Earth, where a grav­i­ta­tional equi­lib­rium can be main­tained so it stays on course to re­lay mes­sages from the rover back to Earth.

Chang’e is a se­ries of probes that China has landed on the moon. Chang’e-3, launched in 2013, and its rover Yutu, or Jade Rab­bit, sur­veyed the moon’s ge­ol­ogy and nat­u­ral re­sources af­ter a soft land­ing.

The coun­try also plans to launch its first Mars probe by the end of this decade, ac­cord­ing to a white pa­per on China’s space ac­tiv­i­ties is­sued in 2016. It also aims to build its own space sta­tion in 2022, Xin­hua re­ported.

The na­tion wants to be one of the world’s top three aerospace pow­ers by 2030, Wu Yan­hua, vice ad­min­is­tra­tor of the China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion, said last year. Its space bud­get is about $8 bil­lion a year, sec­ond only to the U.S..

NASA is pur­su­ing a dual path of build­ing a lu­nar or­bital plat­form and re­turn­ing as­tro­nauts to the moon in the mid-2020s, with the even­tual aim to send hu­mans to Mars.

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