China is looking to go to the dark side of the moon. While American astronauts already set foot on the moon all the way back in 1969, and probes from the Soviet Union landed on the surface of the moon a decade earlier, in 1959, no probes have yet explored the dark side of the moon.
China is looking to change that. As the burgeoning Asian nation looks to build its international clout, space exploration has become a major focus for the country. While China still lags behind the United States and Russia (which was once the Soviet Union), it is slowly but steadily emerging as a third superpower in the space race.
The space race is about more than just prestige. Many valuable technologies in aviation and military tech have emerged from early efforts to get into space and to the moon. Early computer research in relation to the space race helped set the stage for the modern computer industry. The space race was also essential for satellites, which are now essential for weather tracking, military applications, GPS, and telecommunications.
According to CCTV China’s Chang’e 4 mission will send a probe to the far side of the moon, and Chinese officials are aiming to launch the mission before 2020. The announcement was made last week by Zou Yongliao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ moon exploration department.
The moon is one of a few orbiting bodies that does not rotate, instead the same face of the moon is always facing the Earth. While astronomers have been studying the face of the moon for centuries, little is known about the dark side.
The mission will thus allow the Chinese to explore a previously unknown and unseen part of the solar system, making the exploration both groundbreaking and valuable. At the same time, the Chinese will be able to stay somewhat close to home. The moon is far closer to Earth than other major solar bodies.
Interestingly, radio transmissions and other forms of “noise pollution” are unable to reach the far side of the moon. This makes controlling the lunar probe more difficult, but also means that radio waves won’t interfere with sensitive instruments.
China is looking to get to the moon in 2017 in preparation for their trip to the far side. The first time around, however, the Chinese will be sending a probe to the surface of the moon to collect samples and then return to the Earth. If the Chinese complete their mission, they will be the third country to do so, joining the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia).
While the United States’ NASA program has become the target of budget cuts in recent years, America still spends the most on space exploration, shelling out nearly $18 billion per year in 2014. Russia and the European Union each spent close to $5.6 billion in 2014, while China spent about $1.3 billion. Japan spent just over $2 billion, while India forked over about $1 billion.
With the United States looking to slash budgets, however, and countries like India and China looking to leave their mark, spending numbers could change dramatically in the near future. At the same time, it’s cheaper to hire a Chinese scientist in China, than it is to hire an American scientist in the United States, so dollars can stretch a lot further for the Chinese government.