China’s Chang’e 4 Returns Images from the Far Side of the Moon
Kyle Maxey posted on January 22, 2019 |

Earlier this year China successfully landed its Chang’e probe on the far side of the Moon, making it the first man-made craft to execute a soft (read: non-crash) landing on the satellite’s “dark side.” Chang’e 4 is a combination lunar lander and lunar rover package that is expected to operate on the Moon for 12 months (3 months for the rover, Yutu 2).

While the U.S. has a long history of lunar exploration, its commitment to the Moon has waned over the past 40 years, and China is taking up the exploration mantle… And for good reason too.

Not only is the Moon a reasonably close object that could be a test bed for planetary colonization technologies, and a convenient jump point for deep space exploration, it is also rich with minerals and isotopes, like helium-3, which could be critical if fusion technology ever matures. 

But all of that lies in the future, and Chang’e 4 is off-world for the present. During the probe’s lifetime on the Moon, its primary objectives will be measuring the chemical composition of lunar rocks and soil, determining the surface temperature of the far side of the Moon, carrying out some astronomical observations via a low-frequency radio telescope, studying cosmic rays and observing the solar corona and its effect on the Earth.

Although the Chinese Space Agency has hopes that the Chang’e 4 mission will last a year, the craft’s performance will be something to watch. Given how well NASA’s landers and rovers have fared on the planet (provided they don’t accidently crater into the surface), the length of Chang’e 4’s service on the Moon will be an indicator of how far Chinese spacecraft engineers have progressed.

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