China is about to go where no one has gone before–the far side of the Moon. On the morning of Dec. 8th (Chinese time), a Long March 3B rocket is scheduled to blast off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province, propelling a lander and rover toward the lunar farside. If the mission succeeds, it will catapult China into the forefront of lunar exploration with a landing that no other nation has even dared to attempt.
From Earth, we can see only one side of the Moon. The other side, the lunar farside, is perpetually hidden from view. Apollo astronauts have flown over the far side of the Moon, and many satellites have photographed the Moon from behind–revealing it to be a rugged, heavily cratered landscape from the side we typically see. But no one has ever landed there.
And that’s just the beginning. The
Communicating with the far side of the moon is tricky. There’s no direct line of sight. To overcome this problem, on May 21, 2018, China launched a satellite named Queqiao (Chinese for “Magpie Bridge”) to relay signals between the lunar farside and Earth. Queqiao will be able to talk to ground stations in China, Argentina, and Namibia, sending back radio signals and TV images. However, Chang’e 4 will have to perform the critical landing completely autonomously–a daring plan.
Landing is expected to occur early in the New Year. Stay tuned for updates and, meanwhile, congratulations to China for daring mighty things.