This month, China will make space history, by launching the first spacecraft set to land on the far side of the moon, a territory that has yet to be explored by humans. Another mission, scheduled for 2019, will be the first to bring back lunar rocks since 1976.
To infinity and beyond
The two missions are at the beginning of our renewed interest in exploring the moon. India’s space company, as well as private companies in Israel and Germany, are also planning to launch lunar missions in 2019, while the United States would like to have astronauts orbiting in moon beginning in 2023.
The lunar surface has been studied for decades, but there are still many mysteries surrounding the formation of the moon along with the history of the solar system. Scientists are eager to study the new rock samples that have yet to be touched by human hands.
Mysterious as the dark side of the moon
This is not just a lyric on the Mulan soundtrack or a Pink Floyd song. Think of an alien exploring Earth and only seeing the United States. That really doesn’t give the alien a true picture of all that encompasses our planet. The far side of the moon could reveal some major details about this celestial object that we may have never thought of before.
The Chinese spacecraft, Chang’e-4, includes a lander and a rover that were first built as backups for the 2013 Chang’e-3 mission. This was labeled as China’s primary moon landing, and the first since the 1970s. Chang’e-4 aims to explore the moon’s largest, deepest and oldest feature created by impact, the South Pole- Aitken basin. This crater always faces away from Earth. The whole basin is too big for one mission to cover, so this one is looking at the Von Karman crater that lies within the larger hole.
It’s what’s on the inside that counts
Exploring the crater will offer a new perspective on the moon’s interior. The mission will also carry a new form of Swedish technology that will study how charged particles from the sun interact with the moon’s surface and a German technology that will test radiation levels. There will also be a container carrying seeds and insect eggs to test their ability of growth on the lunar surface.
Because the mission is headed to the opposite side that face’s Earth, astronomers here won’t be able to communicate directly with the spacecraft. Back in May, China launched a transmission relay satellite so data can be bounced back and forth. Between this mission along with the mission set for next year, we could really learn more about the moon than ever before. Some believe that samples brought back will reveal that the moon has been geologically active more recently than initially thought. The samples brought back to Earth will be preserved for future scientists who will be asking questions we don’t have the knowledge to even ask yet.