China sets off for moon’s far side

Space­craft launches on a lu­nar mis­sion that would be a first.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD -

BEI­JING — China launched a ground-break­ing mis­sion Satur­day to land a space­craft on the largely un­ex­plored far side of the moon, demon­strat­ing its grow­ing am­bi­tions as a space power to ri­val Rus­sia, the Euro­pean Union and the United States.

A Long March 3B rocket car­ry­ing a lu­nar probe blasted off at 2:23 a.m. from the Xichang Satel­lite Launch Cen­ter in Sichuan prov­ince in south­west­ern China, the of­fi­cial New China News Agency said.

With its Chang’e 4 mis­sion, China hopes to be the first coun­try to make a soft land­ing, set­ting the main space­craft onto the sur­face with­out in­cur­ring se­ri­ous dam­age.

The moon’s far side is also known as the dark side be­cause it faces away from Earth and re­mains com­par­a­tively un­known. It has a dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tion than sites on the near side, where pre­vi­ous mis­sions have landed.

If suc­cess­ful, the mis­sion would pro­pel the Chi­nese space pro­gram to a lead­ing po­si­tion in one of the most im­por­tant ar­eas of lu­nar ex­plo­ration.

China landed its Yutu, or Jade Rab­bit, rover on the moon five years ago and plans to send its Chang’e 5 probe there next year and have it re­turn to Earth with sam­ples — which would be the first time since 1976. A crewed lu­nar mis­sion is also un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Chang ’e 4 is also a lan­der­rover com­bi­na­tion and will ex­plore above and be­low the lu­nar sur­face af­ter ar­riv­ing at the South Pole-Aitken basin’s Von Kar­man crater fol­low­ing a 27-day jour­ney.

It will also per­form ra­dioas­tro­nom­i­cal stud­ies that, be­cause the far side al­ways faces away from Earth, will be “free from in­ter­fer­ence from our planet’s iono­sphere, hu­man-made ra­dio fre­quen­cies and au­ro­ral ra­di­a­tion noise,” space in­dus­try ex­pert Leonard David wrote on Space.com.

It might also carry plant seeds and silk­worm eggs, ac­cord­ing to New China News Agency.

Chang’e is the god­dess of the moon in Chi­nese mythol­ogy.

China con­ducted its first crewed space mis­sion in 2003, mak­ing it the third coun­try af­ter Rus­sia and the U.S. to do so.

It has put a pair of space sta­tions into or­bit, one of which is still op­er­at­ing as a pre­cur­sor to a morethan-60-ton sta­tion that is sched­uled to come on line in 2022. The launch of a Mars rover is planned for the mid-2020s.

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