China’s space agency, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), is reportedly planning to send a probe to the dark side of the Moon. This is believed to be the country’s first step toward its ambitious Moon colonization program.
The probe is expected to land on the Von Kármán crater, which has a diameter of about 112 miles. Von Kármán is estimated to be the oldest crater in the entire solar system, which makes it perfect for collecting rare hydrogen isotopes that were carried by the solar wind.
The probe’s lander, Chang’e-4, will also experiment on plant growth in low gravity conditions. It also seeks to listen to interstellar signals by blocking out the radio noise. A communication satellite was launched earlier in the year that will relay signals from the lander to Earth.
The crater lies to the northwest of the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, one of the deepest and oldest basins on the moon. What has scientists interested in the basin is the possibility that the geological composition of the region is different from rocks collected during the Russian Luna and U.S. Apollo missions.
“It’s possible this basin is so deep that it contains material from the Moon’s inner mantle. By landing on the far side for the first time, the Chang’e-4 lander and rover will help us understand so much more about the Moon’s formation and history… But just as importantly, it gives us practice operating a mission from the far side of the Moon, and relaying data back to Earth via a satellite circling the far side,” Tamela Maciel, Space Communications Manager at the National Space Center UK, said in a series of tweets.
After Chang’e-4, China is expected to launch Chang’e-5 sometime next year. It will collect a sample of the Moon’s dusty surface and bring it back to Earth.
Beijing’s long-term ambition is to build colonies on the Moon. Initially, it will build Moon bases that will not only explore the satellite’s natural resources, but will also act as a launchpad for future Mars missions.
“[China] is conducting a feasibility study for a robotic outpost on the lunar surface to conduct scientific research and technological experiments,” administration officials said in a statement (The Telegraph). The Chang’e-4 lunar probe will involve experiments that will test whether potatoes, silkworms, and flowers can be grown on the Moon’s surface.
Beijing has started training potential candidates for the eventual Moon mission. Recently, a team of four students spent 200 days in a simulation similar to lunar living conditions. The crew ate foods like onions, carrots, and string beans. Mealworms were also part of the diet since they will be used as a protein source for the astronauts. The team stayed in a 1,720 square foot facility.
“In addition to testing the food supply systems, which grows plants using waste from the pseudo astronauts, the long stay is also designed to provide insight into how people handle the psychological stress of being trapped in a small space with the same handful of people for long periods of time without sunlight,” according to Newsweek.
China is expected to complete building the Long March 9 rocket in 2028. Once done, a series of lunar surface missions is likely to start in around 2030.