With the new year having just started, China is hoping to achieve something American and Russian space programs have not been able to do to this day. There have been many moon missions in several decades of space travel history, but China’s Chang’e 4 missions may be the first to send a lander to the far side of the moon’s surface, assuming everything takes place as scheduled.
As explained in a report from The Guardian, the Chang’e 4 missions are the fourth in a series of missions aptly named after the Chinese moon goddess and will take place in two parts, starting with the liftoff of a relay satellite in June. According to Sputnik International, the satellite will be carried in a Long March 4C rocket and will be positioned about 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) behind the moon, allowing for communication between Earth and the far side of the moon. After a communications link is set up, a second launch will transport a lander and rover to the lunar far side, with the relay satellite helping the craft land safely.
The Chang’e 4 mission won’t just have historical implications as a first-ever landing on the far side of the moon. Sputnik International added that the lander will come equipped with a number of instruments which will be used to analyze the far side’s geological conditions. An aluminum alloy container with seeds and insects will also be transported aboard the lander, as Chinese space officials hope to find out if plants can grow and animals can exist in lunar conditions.
“The container will send potatoes, arabidopsis seeds, and silkworm eggs to the surface of the moon,” explained the container’s designer, Zhang Yuanxun, in an interview with the Chongqing Morning Post quoted by China Daily.
“The eggs will hatch into silkworms, which can produce carbon dioxide, while the potatoes and seeds emit oxygen through photosynthesis. Together, they can establish a simple ecosystem on the Moon.”
China’s Chang’e missions started in 2007, with the most recent one, Chang’e 3, taking place in 2013. This mission had the Jade Rabbit rover make the first soft landing on the moon since 1976, which, according to The Guardian, helped China truly catch up with the lunar travel accomplishments of the United States and Russia. Chang’e 4, however, could see China achieve a historical milestone, as no country’s space program has sent a spacecraft to the far side of the moon due to the communications challenges such a landing poses.
On the other hand, such a mission would also come with its share of scientific advantages. Once a spacecraft is on the far side of the moon, radio signals from Earth are blocked, thereby allowing an “unparalleled” view of the radio universe. To this end, Dutch scientist Heino Falcke of Radboud University in Nijmegen told The Guardian that he will be providing a radio telescope to the Chang’e 4 mission in hopes of determining if it’s possible to pick up low-frequency signals from the universe’s early years. It still isn’t guaranteed that the instrument will be included as part of this year’s projected launches, but Falcke expressed optimism, saying that there is “enough goodwill on both sides” for such an endeavor to be fruitful.