Much of the focus for NASA and many other space organizations around the world has been on Mars for a while now. Sending a crewed mission to Mars, even if it just orbits the planet and then flies back home, will be an amazing accomplishment for whatever group is the first to make it happen, but Earth’s moon may still hold some incredible secrets worth exploring.
With that in mind, China is hoping that its Chang’e-4 mission will give scientists a better idea of the composition of the moon itself and maybe even reveal its potential for supporting life. The mission, which has many moving parts including a lander and a rover, will target the far side of the moon for the first time ever.
The launch of the lander and onboard rover is scheduled for Dec. 8 and the yearlong mission will have many scientific aims.
First, upon landing, the lander will shoot images and take radiation readings from space. The information will be sent back to Earth via a relay satellite that is already in orbit. As for the aforementioned desire to see whether moon soil could support life, the lander will conduct an experiment and attempt to grow potato plants from seeds. It will also carry insect eggs to see how the plants and insects coexist in the lunar material.
A rover will also be deployed, complete with a panoramic camera for images and radar instruments capable of penetrating the ground. A spectrometer is also built into the rover, which will allow scientists to take readings from the far side of the moon.
The yearlong expected mission duration should return plenty of valuable insights about Earth’s natural satellite, but first, it has to stick its landing. The spacecraft will launch in early December but landing won’t come until early in 2019, so we’ll have to wait for that big day before scientists get their shot at new research.