NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

China Plans on Being the First Country to Land a Probe on the Far Side of the Moon

The next frontier.

JOSH HRALA
28 DEC 2016
 

Chinese officials have announced an ambitious plan to land a probe on the far side of the Moon in 2018, adding that they also plan on launching the country’s first Mars-bound probe by 2020.

The news comes just a few months after two Chinese astronauts successfully spent 30 days aboard the country’s Tiangong 2 space station - the longest time Chinese astronauts have spent in orbit.

 

"To explore the vast cosmos, develop the space industry, and build China into a space power is a dream we pursue unremittingly," officials said on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

Not everything has worked out for China's space program lately - the biggest hiccup happened earlier this year, when China lost control of its prototype space station, Tiangong 1, which is expected to enter Earth's atmosphere sometime in 2017. 

As Fiona MacDonald reported for us in September:

"The first space lab, Tiangong 1, was launched in 2011 and docked with three rockets, but a few weeks ago China admitted that it had lost control of the spacecraft, and it was on a collision course with Earth in 2017

It's hoped that this second space lab [Tiangong 2] will have more luck, and extra modules will be added over the new few years with the goal of being a fully operational space station by 2022."

With their successful launch to Tiangong 2, China has become the third country on Earth to complete crewed missions to space. The country has been barred from using the International Space Station over military concerns.

 

The announcement of their new plans to launch probes to both the Moon and Mars show that China is trying to catch up to the US and Russia in terms of space exploration.

Some experts even believe that the probe to the Moon is the first step for China to eventually land astronauts there, though nothing has officially been announced on that front.

Since being photographed for the first time in 1959, the far side of the moon - the hemisphere that constantly faces away from us - has never been landed on by a probe.

Back in January, China's official news outlets first announced that the space agency would soft-land - a type of landing that keeps the lander intact instead of destroying it when it touches down - on the far side of the Moon. That plan has now been confirmed.

"The Chang'e-4's lander and rover will make a soft landing on the back side of the Moon, and will carry out in-place and patrolling surveys," said China’s lunar exploration chief, Liu Jizhong.

"The implementation of the Chang'e-4 mission has helped our country make the leap from following to leading in the field of lunar exploration."

China's had its eyes fixed on the Moon for quite some time now. The space agency landed its Chang’e-3 lander on the Moon back in 2013, becoming the first agency to soft-land on the lunar surface in more than 40 years.

But a probe on Mars is something new for the agency, which says it hopes to "conduct research into major scientific questions such as the origin and evolution of the Solar System, and search for extra-terrestrial life", Louise Watt reports for the Associated Press.

What that Mars probe will look like, how it will operate, and when it plans to actually launch are still unknown, but the country plans to have it operational by 2020.

Only time will tell if China follows through on its plans, but if it does, it will be the first country to soft-land a probe on the far side of the Moon - a feat that will benefit the scientific community across the globe. 

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