China is gearing up to land on the dark side of the moon, a pioneering move that will cement its position as a world leader in space exploration.
Humans have only ever seen the bright side of the moon due to tidal locking, a phenomenon caused by its gravitational interaction with Earth. It takes the same 28 days to rotate once on its axis and revolve around the planet.
The dark side of the moon has never been explored largely due to communication difficulties it presents, but China is now ready to take the job.
China plans to accomplish the feat through Chang’e 4, a pair of missions that follows a series named after the Chinese moon goddess.
The first mission, set for launch in June, is a relay satellite that will serve as a communications link between Earth and the moon’s dark side. It currently solicits messages from all over the world through WeChat account “slecbj” until March 6, 2018, according to Xinhua.
Once the link is established, a lander will be sent to the surface, accomplishing the second part of the mission.
Reaching the dark side of the moon will give China the advantage of exploring space without stray radio signals from Earth. Zou Yongliao, part of the moon exploration department of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Xinhua in 2015 that this side has a “clean” electromagnetic environment that provides an ideal field for low-frequency radio study.
“If we can can place a frequency spectrograph on the far side, we can fill a void,” Zou said.
The Chang’e missions started in 2007 with lunar orbiter Chang’e 1. In 2010, Chang’e 2 kicked off from the lunar orbit before flying across the solar system. By 2013, Chang’e 3 landed on the moon through a robotic lander and China’s first lunar rover.
China’s success in its fourth mission will mark a world-first achievement and put it at par with the United States and Russia. Once done, a series of other lunar missions will be on course, culminating in the highly-anticipated human landing on the surface.
“The Chinese are pushing back the frontier with such a technically challenging mission,” Brian Harvey, space analyst and author of “China in Space: The Great Leap Forward,” told The Guardian. “It is reasonable to presume that China will have its own people on the surface early in the 2030s.”
China is not only eyeing to explore the moon, however. It also plans to check out Mars, with a “Mars village” currently under construction in the “most Martian” place on Earth.