China's increasingly ambitious space program plans to attempt the first-ever landing of a lunar probe on the moon's far side, a leading engineer said. The Chang'e 4 mission is planned for sometime before 2020, Zou Yongliao from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' moon exploration department told state broadcaster CCTV in an interview broadcast on Wednesday. Zou said the mission's objective would be to study geological conditions on the moon's far side, also known as the dark side.
It seems that the two sides of the moon have evolved differently since their formation, with the far side forming at cooler temperatures and remaining stiffer while the Earth side has been modified at higher temperatures and for longer. This information is extremely important for theories on the formation of the moon, of which the current favorite is the "Giant Impact" hypothesis.
The Giant Impact idea is that four and a half billion years ago a planet the size of Mars rammed Earth, kicking enough debris into orbit to accrete into an entirely new body.
The image at top of page shows the hidden face of the moon for the first time ever, as captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's instruments. The rainbow colors correspond to the elevation of the terrain, going from 20,000 feet (red) to -20,000 feet (blue), combined with the unique sharp view of the craters—the largest in the solar system.
China's next lunar mission is scheduled for 2017, when it will attempt to land an unmanned spaceship on the moon before returning to Earth with samples. If successful, that would make China only the third country after the United States and Russia to have carried out such a maneuver.
China's lunar exploration program, named Chang'e after a mythical goddess, has already launched a pair of orbiting lunar probes, and in 2013 landed a craft on the moon with a rover onboard.
China has also hinted at a possible crewed mission to the moon. China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and has powered ahead with a series of methodically timed steps, including the deploying of an experimental space station.
The Daily Galaxy via BEIJING (AP)