China launches first space probe to far side of the moon | News | DW | 08.12.2018
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China launches first space probe to far side of the moon

China is taking a small step toward its goal of becoming a space power. Its Chang'e-4 lunar rover is set to become the first manned probe to land on the rugged far side of the moon.

China has launched a probe destined to become the first rover to land on the far side of the moon, state media reported on Saturday.

Xinhua news agency reported that a Long March 3B rocket carrying the Chang'e-4 lunar probe took off from the country's southwestern Xichang launch center at 2:23 a.m. local time (1823 UTC).

The rover is scheduled to land on the moon and begin conducting experiments and survey work by the end of December. The experiments, six of which are Chinese, include analyzing minerals and measuring radiation.

Ground control to 'Magpie Bridge'

The synchronicity of the earth and moon's rotations ensures that the far side of the moon is always facing away from the earth, a phenomenon known as "tidal locking." The Soviet Union captured the first images of the far side in 1959.

The far side's cratered surface will make the probe's planned "soft" landing far more challenging than previous landings on the near side, which has many flat areas.

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When will humans return to the moon?

Because signals cannot travel in a straight line between the earth and the moon's far side, China launched the Queqiao ("Magpie Bridge") relay satellite into the moon's orbit in May.

One small step for China's space program

The Chang'e mission, named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology, follows China's first mission to the moon, the Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") probe, in 2013.

Next year, Beijing plans to launch the Chang'e-5 lunar lander to collect and return samples from the lunar surface. If successful, it would be the first time samples have returned to earth since 1976.

China hopes to expand its multi-billion dollar space program to become a space power by 2030. Long-term goals include building a moon base and crewed space station and sending manned missions to the moon and Mars.

amp/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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