Chinese state media has announced it will launch a probe to the moon’s dark side in 2018. While NASA’s Apollo missions and various spacecraft have orbited the moon’s dark side before, no country has attempted to land there. The official Xinhua news agency reported that its Chang’e-4 lander and rover will explore the surface and survey the terrain. One of the key areas of exploration is likely to be the South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest impact crater in the solar system, almost 2,500km wide and 13km deep. The crater may hold keys to the geological composition of the Moon’s crust and its original creation.
Russia was the first country to photograph the dark sided with an orbiter in 1959.
China has sent space craft to the moon twice before; the Chang’e 1 deliberately crash landed in 2007, while the Chang’e 3 made a soft landing and deployed a rover in 2014. One of China’s future planned missions, the Chang’e 5, hopes to return samples to Earth. Chang’e is the Chinese goddess of the Moon, a subject of legends in Chinese mythology.
Beijing also has plans for a permanent orbiting station by 2020 and eventually hopes to replicate the success of NASA’s Apollo missions, by launching manned spacecraft. No human has set foot on the moon since 1972.
Some believe China will attempt to mine the moon for helium-3 in the not to distant future. Helium-3 is rare and desirable as a potential fusion fuel source as no neutrons are generated as a reaction product. The protons that do get generated have charge, allowing them to be safely contained using electromagnetic fields.