China eyes the dark, sorry, far side of the Moon

Probe to touch down by 2020, space boffin claims

A Chinese space boffin has said his country will land the first probe on the far side of the Moon* before 2020, the BBC reports.

Speaking to state TV, Zou Yongliao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said the purpose of the Chang'e 4 mission would be to "study geological conditions" on our satellite's hidden face.

The landing could pave the way for an eventual radio telescope there, Zou added. The Moon's far side is an ideal spot for such an installation, as it's shielded from terrestrial radio transmissions.

Given the radio black spot, the mission will presumably require an orbiting spacecraft to maintain comms between Earth and the probe. China is already developing a recoverable lunar orbiter for the forthcoming Chang'e 5 mission.

With Chang'e 5, China hopes to touch down on the lunar surface and return rock and soil samples to Earth. Its 2014 Chang'e 5T1 was a dry run for the ambitious 2017 attempt. If successful, the nation will join the US and Russia in wearing the "been there, done that, got the samples" Moon club t-shirt. ®


* As we all know, the Moon's far side – commonly called the dark side of the Moon – is not actually permanently dark, but merely facing away from us due to tidal locking. No doubt Pink Floyd have over the years received numerous letters along the lines of: "Much as I enjoyed your recent album, I would point out that the scientifically correct title should be The Far Side of the Moon. Thank you."

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