China Launches Pioneering Mission to Far Side of Moon

A scale model of the Chang'e-4 lunar probe

A Long March-3B rocket, carrying the probe including a lander and a rover, blasted off from Xichang at 2:23 a.m., opening a new chapter in lunar exploration.

China on Saturday launched a first probe ever to explore the dark side of the Moon, marking another milestone in its ambitious space program, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Analyzing the crater's surface composition is one of the primary tasks for the mission, part of a series carried out by a succession of Chang'e probes.

The biggest challenge will be establishing communication with the far side of the moon, which is unreachable by direct signal and invisible from Earth, said professor Ouyang Ziyuan of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the chief scientist of the China Lunar Exploration Plan. The other face, most of which can not be seen from earth, is called the far side or dark side, not because it's dark, but because most of it remains unknown.

The rover is scheduled to observe the possibilities for sustaining plant life and seek potential water sources in the previously unexplored expanse, as well as conduct astronomical experiments aided by the far-side's natural shielding from Earth's electromagnetic waves.

It was not until 1959 that the Soviet Union captured the first images of the heavily cratered surface, uncloaking some of the mystery of the moon's "dark side".

No lander or rover has ever touched the surface there, positioning China as the first nation to explore the area.

The Moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate that it orbits our planet, so the far side is never visible from Earth.

China, which is investing billions in its military-run space programme, hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022.

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The Chang'e 4 lunar probe launches from the the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.

An artist's conception shows the Chang'e-4 rover on the lunar surface.

Model of Chang'e moon lander.

During the lunar night - which lasts 14 earth days - temperatures will drop as low as minus 173 degrees Celsius (minus 279 Fahrenheit).

The rover´s instruments must withstand those fluctuations and it must generate enough energy to sustain it during the long night.

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

There's more to come: Next year, China is due to launch its Chang'e-5 mission to collect a 4.4-pound (2-kilogram) sample of lunar soil from the Oceanus Procellarum region and return it to Earth.

It would also like to develop a moon base through several manned missions.

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