China’s new Lunar Missions are on the way. The robotic Chang’e 4 spacecraft, named for a mythological Moon goddess, launched from Earth on Dec. 7, to become the first ever surface mission to the far side of the moon.
The mission, which consists of a stationary lander and a rover, will perform a variety of science work and plant a flag for humanity in a region that remains largely unexplored to date.
Going where no probe has gone before
The moon is tidally locked to Earth, meaning the natural satellite takes about the same amount of time to spin once on its axis as it does to orbit our planet. So, here on Earth, we always see the same face of our cosmic neighbor.
That would be the near side. The far side remains forever out of view, and that explains why this obscured surface has yet to welcome a robotic visitor. Communicating with a far-side lander or rover is difficult, because the entirety of the moon’s solid, rocky body would block direct signals traveling to and fro.
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More details on the Chinese lunar missions written by Long Xiao, a planetary geoscientist at China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) and Macau University of Science and Technology, can be found at Planetary.org