China's rover blasts off to make history on moon's 'dark side'

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China launched a ground-breaking mission Saturday to land a spacecraft on the largely unexplored far side of the moon, demonstrating its growing ambitions as a space power to rival Russian Federation, the European Union and the U.S.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, the Chang'e 4 lunar probe launches from the the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.

A Long March-3B rocket, carrying the probe including a lander and a rover, blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province at 2:23 a.m., opening a new chapter in lunar exploration.

The probe, the Chang'e-4, is expected to make the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon, according to Xinhua. The rover will land in the 3.9 billion year old "Von Kármán" crater, where it will take measurements and conduct experiments with the potential to uncover new information about the moon's formation and history. It's mission will be to explore the composition of the lunar surface.

Chinese state media said the area being targeted was the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region.

China launched the relay satellite "Queqiao", meaning Magpie Bridge, on May 21 to set up the communication link between the earth and the moon's far side.

Three scientific and technological experiments, designed by Chinese universities, will also be carried out during the mission.

Chang´e-4 will be the second Chinese probe to land on the moon, following the Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") rover mission in 2013.

Since the moon's revolution cycle is the same as its rotation cycle, the same side always faces the earth. During the lunar day, also lasting 14 earth days, temperatures soar as high as 127 C (261 F).

Yutu conquered those challenges and, after initial setbacks, ultimately surveyed the moon´s surface for 31 months.

China's space program has benefited from cooperation with Russian Federation and European nations, although it was excluded from the 420-ton International Space Station, mainly due to USA legislation barring such cooperation amid concerns over its strong military connections. It is planning to launch construction of its own manned space station next year.

"Our country´s successful lunar exploration project not only vaults us to the top of the world´s space power ranks, it also allows the exploration of the far side of the moon", said Niu Min, an expert on China´s space programme.

Vanessa Coleman

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