Chinese Spacecraft Nears Landing on Far Side of Moon

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The place the probe will explore, Dr. Goswami said, could become a future refueling base for missions deeper into space in the way “navies viewed coaling stations, for purposes of refueling and resupply.”

The Chang’e-4 was launched from Xichang, in southwestern China, early on the morning of Dec. 8 (still midday Dec. 7 in the United States), and it glided into a final, lower orbit around the moon on Sunday, 22 days later.

It was headed for the Von Kármán, a flat feature about 110 miles wide that sits inside a larger basin near the moon’s south pole. The main lander will release a 300-pound rover that, barring mishap, will roam the crater. (The rover’s name, the subject of a public contest and vote, has not yet been revealed.)

The instruments aboard the lander and the rover include cameras, ground-penetrating radar and spectrometers to help identify the composition of the area, which was formed by a meteorite. Scientists hope the rocks and dirt in the area will add to the understanding of the moon’s geology.

The lander will also conduct a biology experiment to see if plant seeds will germinate and silkworm eggs will hatch in the moon’s low gravity.

Since the moon prevents direct communications from the far side, China launched a satellite to act as a relay, allowing the rover to bounce signals off it first before they continue back to earthbound scientists.

China’s first lunar lander, the Chang’e-3, completed a journey to the near side of the moon five years ago. Its rover was plagued with problems, though. Within a month, the rover stopped moving after zigzagging 374 feet, though it continued intermittently to transmit photographs and other information, according to Chinese officials, until March 2015.

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