AsianScientist (Jan. 4, 2019) – Prior to the 1960s, the far side of the moon was a mystery to humanity. Only after the launch of the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 in 1959 were scientists able to glimpse the ‘dark’ side of Earth’s natural satellite.
Since then, several moon landings have been successfully completed, all on the side of the moon facing Earth. But on January 3, 2019, China’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe made a historic touchdown on the far side of the moon. Unlike NASA’s Ranger 4 spacecraft which crashed into the far side of the moon in 1962, Chang’e-4 made a soft landing and remains functional.
Launched on December 8, 2018, the Chang’e-4 is the fourth in a series of planned lunar missions under the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, whose overarching objective is to send a manned expedition to the moon between 2025 and 2030. Because direct communication between the Earth and Chang’e-4 was obstructed once the probe entered orbit above the surface of far side of the moon, a relay satellite Queqiao was involved in sending signals to direct Chang’e-4’s landing.
Descending from an elliptical orbit of 15 kilometers above the moon surface, the probe completed its nearly month-long journey at 10.26 am Beijing Time (2.26 am GMT) in the moon’s largest and most ancient impact crater known as the South Pole-Aitken Basin. The successful landing of Chang’e-4 was announced by state-owned media two hours later, and the probe has since transmitted a close-up photo of the far side of the moon back to Earth.
A fifth probe, the Chang’e-5, is currently being developed and scheduled for launch in December 2019. Unlike Chang’e-4 which is mainly tasked with measurement and observation, including recording lunar surface temperatures and assessing the chemical compositions of rocks, Chang’e-5 will have to achieve a more ambitious goal of collecting lunar samples and sending them back to Earth.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine. Photo: China National Space Administration.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.