According to the Chinese Central Television, China wants to land rover on the far side of the moon, also know as the dark side of the moon, by 2020. This would make it the first nation to land a spacecraft of any sort there. First, the rover will orbit the moon piggybacked by the Chang’e 4 spacecraft then later deployed to a launch site. The rover will carry out some scientific missions, but the main goal really is to test China’s space launching capabilities, but also as a show of force. Flex those muscles, sort to speak. Some analysts, however, speak out that there might be more to it, namely a bid for the moon’s resources.
The dark side of the moon isn’t actually dark. In all fairness, it gets just as much sunlight as the other half. It’s called dark because we never get to see it, since the moon is tidally locked to Earth. Many billions of years ago, the moon and the Earth were one planet. The ‘giant impact hypothesis’ is the leading moon formation theory. It suggests an object the size of Mars collided with proto-Earth and caused it to spit into one big chunk, and a smaller one. Back then the molten, scorching moon was much closer to Earth, so it responded even more strongly to the tidal deformation imposed upon it by the Earth’s gravitational field. This is why the moon isn’t spherical – for instance, the side facing Earth today is bulged outwards. Anyway, that massive impact inflicted a lot of inertia so the moon was rotating very fast around its own axis 3-4 billion years ago. Over time, the gravitational tidal forces acting upon the non-spherical body of the Moon have modified its non-spherical shape, and caused a systematic dissipation of the Moon’s rotational energy via friction. Ultimately, a combination of the Moon’s initial deformation when it was molten and solidified in the Earth’s tidal gravitational field, together with the on-going tidal deformation, leads to a preferred orientation to the Moon in its orbit which the system relaxes to over billions of years.
In December 2013, China landed its Chang’e 3 craft on the moon, making it only the third country to do so along with the US and the Soviet Union. The former two have long lost interest in lunar missions, apart from some orbiting probes. In fact, the Chinese craft was the first spacecraft to do so safely since the Soviet probe Luna 23 in 1976. But while the US and Russia might be done with the moon following the cold war, right now there’s a new space race: an Asian space race. Japan said it wants to land a rover on the moon as well by 2018. In the same year, China also wants to land the Chang’e 5 craft. That’s right, before the Chang’e 4.
“Since Chang’e-3 successfully completed its mission, we have had more time to explore a more comprehensive mission for Chang’e-4,” said Ouyang Ziyuan, a senior consultant in the lunar exploration program and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“That’s why it’s possible for Chang’e-5 to launch to the moon before Chang’e-4.”
Landing on the far side of the moon is quite challenging; after all, there’s a reason everybody else concentrated on the near side. At the same time, the far side of the moon is a fantastic place to conduct scientific experiments. After all, it’s here that we can find the The South-Pole Aitken Basin – the biggest and most ancient lunar basin. In the end, it might be worth it for China. Some experts assert that what we’re seeing is actually the beginning of a Chinese dominance for lunar resources, especially water and helium-3, a prized isotope that could be used as a fuel. The moon’s got plenty of it. So, maybe this is a good as time as any to start revising that space mining law…
edit: 1) initial draft read piggy-bagged, instead of piggybacked. 2) modified moon formation paragraph to highlight that the giant impact scenario is a hypothesis supported by evidence, but not proven as a fact.
Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!