Finally, they’re catching up!
When it comes to space programs, China has never been where the U.S, and Russia were. But it looks like things might be looking up (literally and figuratively) for China. It looks like China is setting up to do something that no nation has ever done: land of the dark side of the moon.
Obviously, the moon doesn’t actually have a dark side but since only one side faces us when it orbits the Earth, we call the side that faces away from the dark side. The first manned mission to land on the moon was the historic Apollo 11 in 1969. Previous to that, the first time we saw what the dark side of the moon looked like was in 1959 when the Soviet Luna 3 sent back photos.
In December of 2018, China is going to send a lander called Chang’e-4 to the dark side of the moon with hopes of it settling onto the surface. Eventually, a small rover will be deployed and evaluate the terrain and send back pictures and other information.
What Does Chang’e Mean?
The name of the Chinese lander might seem strange to those that aren’t well versed in Chinese deities but the spacecraft is actually named after the goddess of the Moon.
The story about Chang’e is actually a pretty sad one. Her husband, Hou Yi, was given the gift of an elixir. The elixir would allow him to become a god. Hou Yi gave the elixir to Chang’e and she hid it for safekeeping. Unfortunately, a thief saw her hide it and demanded it. In order to prevent the thief from getting it, she took it and immediately ascended to the heavens.
The Chinese believe that the “man in the moon” is Chang’e looking down on them. A pretty interesting story if you ask me!
Back to Science
Astrologists are very interested in China’s mission because the dark side of the moon is assumed to have a significantly different terrain than the side of the moon that we see. By learning more about this unknown side we can hopefully learn more about how the moon formed.
The biggest challenge is going to be keeping constant communication with the Chang’e. This is because the transmission on the dark side is not consistent. The improve the connection, China is launching a satellite that will hopefully solve that problem.
If Chang’e-4 is a success, China will launch Chang’e-5 with hopes to collect rocks to bring back to Earth. An interesting potential find is the discovery of ice water on the moon that scientist believe could be converted into a fuel in the future. China’s progress is looking pretty good!