In Chinese tradition, the full moon is a symbol of peace, prosperity, and family reunion. On the 15th
day of the 8th
month of the lunar calendar, the moon is full and for China, this is the period for the Moon Festival celebrations. The Chinese goddess of the moon is known as Chang E, the modern China has adopted this title for naming their probes to moon. China’s space agency has evolved a very elaborate lunar programme and is found making a step by step approach, achieving limited, but important goals with every mission. On January 3, 2019, their fourth mission to moon called Chang’e 4 successfully landed on the far side of the moon. This is a very special mission, because with this, for a first time a satellite has been sent on the far side of the Moon, a region which is totally unexplored till date.
The Chang'e-4 is a very special mission because...for a first time a satellite has been sent on the far side of the Moon, a region which is totally unexplored till date.
Some twelve years back, China made its first entry into the moon’s vicinity. China’s ongoing moon programme could be divided into two phases. The first phase was about carrying satellites into the moon’s vicinity and taking observations to map the moon’s surface. In this context, the first lunar spacecraft, Chang’e 1 orbiter, was launched on 24 October 2007, while the second orbiter, Chang’e 2, was launched on 1 October 2010. The second phase is all about the robotic equipment landing on the moon. Two missions (Chang’e 3 & 4) have been responsible for landing of rover and lander on the different locations on the moon. Chang’e 3 mission, which includes a lander and rover, successfully landed on the Moon on 14 December 2013 and on 03 January 2019, China’s Chang’e 4 successfully landed on the far side of the moon.
The launch mass of Chang’e-4 spacecraft is about 3,780 kg. The mass of lander is about 1,200 kg and that of rover is 140 kg. As per the mission design, the rover is expected to explore the lunar surface for a period of three months while the lander’s mission would last for a full year. The lander has released a rover, called Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit) for performing experiments in the Von Karman Crater. This is a large lunar impact crater which is about 180 km in diameter. This basin is located within a very big impact crater called the South Pole–Aitken basin (2,500 km in diameter and 13 km deep).
One of the most interesting experiments as a part of this mission was the one designed by the scientists from Chongqing University. This “mini lunar biosphere” experiment carried an 18cm bucket-like container holding air, water and soil. Inside this unit was carried cotton, arabidopsis – a small, flowering plant of the mustard family – and potato seeds, as well as fruit-fly eggs and yeast. The images sent back by the probe show a cotton plant has grown well, but so far none of the other plants had sprouted. Now, this experiment is over and sprouted cotton would decay in the container. This is for the first time in history that a biological matter has been flown to moon. Earlier, plants have been grown on the International Space Station (ISS).
Chang'e-4 is a unique mission in many ways and one such aspect is international cooperation associated with this mission. Apart from the scientific community from China, there are instruments developed by scientists from Sweden and Germany too. The broad aim of the mission is to study the effects of low gravity on an Earth-like ecosystem, lunar environment, cosmic radiation and the interaction between solar wind and the moon's surface. The rover with its panoramic camera is presently investigating in detail about the surface morphology and geological structure of the moon’s surface.
The broad aim of the mission is to study the effects of low gravity on an Earth-like ecosystem, lunar environment, cosmic radiation and the interaction between solar wind and the moon's surface.
Particularly, the study of this basin is very important because this is an area which has vast amount of water ice available. This area and some other craters in this region are permanently shadowed regions where no sunlight reaches. They are known to have deposits of hydrogen or water ice. India's Chandrayaan-1 orbiter and few American moon experiments based on their observations have inferred that there is water on the moon. Now, the experiments carried out by China could provide the actual proof of this finding.
India's Chandrayaan-1 orbiter and few American moon experiments based on their observations have inferred that there is water on the moon. Now, the experiments carried out by China could provide the actual proof of this finding.
Mission Chang’e-4 could be viewed as a very significant mission from the point of view of the future of China’s moon agenda. It would help the rest in the world too, in regards to gathering important inputs to undertake future missions. So far, this mission has demonstrated that the biological matter could be grown on the moon. The mission is also expected to provide a definitive answer in regards to the extraction of water from the moon surface. It would also provide options for good landing sites/ safest landing spots for the future missions.
China's space agency is planning at least four more missions to moon in near future. The next mission which possibly could happen during 2019 itself, is being designed to bring back samples from the moon. Now for more than two decades, China is found playing a “(unannounced) catch up” game in space exploration with the US. There have been enough indications that they want to send a Chinese man or a women to space by 2030. They are found making a rapid progress in that direction. It would be of interest to see if Chinese human reaches to the moon first or some private sector company (possibly NASA supported) beats them in this unannounced human race for the moon.
This article originally appeared in the Space Alert
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