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China Preparing For Mission To Far Side Of The Moon

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Yutu moon rover on the lunar surface in 2013. China's Chang'e 4 mission will explore the far side of the moon, a region that always faces away from the Earth and has never been explored by robotic or manned missions.   ( CASC/China Ministry of Defense )

China is launching Chang'e 4, a lander-rover duo, to the surface of the far side of the moon this coming weekend.

The robotic mission will be launched atop the Long March 3B rocket on Friday, Dec. 7, at around 1:30 a.m. EST. The lander-rover duo is expected to touch down within the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin in the region of the moon that always faces away from Earth.

China's Ambitious Lunar Mission

No other country has attempted the feat, particularly because landing at the far side of the moon would be incredibly challenging. Because the moon rotates on its axis at the same rate it orbits the Earth, only one side of the moon is visible from Earth at all times.

The only region of the moon that was previously explored by robotic and manned missions is the near-side — the region that is always facing Earth — because it allows easier communication with ground control.

To land on the far side of the moon and oversee the mission from Earth, China launched a satellite called Queqiao back in May for the sole purpose of aiding the communication between the upcoming Chang'e 4 and the China National Space Administration. The satellite is flying around a point known as the Earth-Moon Lagrange point at more than 37,000 miles away from the lunar surface.

What The Far-Side Of The Moon Is Hiding

The South Pole-Aitken basin is an important site to explore. At about 1,550 miles in diameter, the South Pole-Aitken is the largest and oldest recognized impact basin of the moon, according to NASA.

Scientists believe that studying the materials in the site could reveal the composition of the moon's crust and, perhaps, even its mantle. Moreover, the craters on the surface of the moon were thought to have been created during a period called Late Heavy Bombardment when a huge number of asteroids impacted the inner planets. The event occurred later in the development of the solar system after many planets had already formed.

If the South Pole-Aitken basin is found to be around 3.9 billion years old or the same age as the moon, it would prove that the Late Heavy Bombardment happened. Exploring the basin could reveal more details about the history of the solar system.

Chang'e 4 will touchdown in Von Kármán Crater within the South Pole-Aitken basin. China hopes that the lander-rover duo will make low-frequency radio-astronomical study of the surface of the moon and study the topographic and mineralogical composition of the far side region.

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