China on Monday launched a relay satellite, a pivotal first step toward ensuring that controllers could land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon’s far side later this year.
The far side of the moon does not face the Earth, hindering communications with earthbound scientists, and making its previous exploration virtually impossible.
A successful mission would be a significant scientific achievement as well as useful propaganda tool for President Xi Jinping, who sees China’s largely military-run space program as a vehicle for enhancing national prestige. A ‘rabbit’ discovers moon rocks Photo While China’s mission to the dark side of the moon would be a first for the world, Chinese spacecraft have previously visited the moon.
In 2013, the year Mr. Xi first assumed power, China became the third country — after the United States and the Soviet Union — to steer a spacecraft onto the moon. The rover known as Jade Rabbit operated for more than two years, and allowed researchers to investigate the moon’s surface remotely using spectrometers, and discover a new type of basaltic rock.
A year later, an unmanned Chinese spacecraft orbited the moon to test equipment and techniques for a future lunar mission. It carried a microchip with Chinese music, including a song by Peng Liyuan, a famous singer who is married to Mr. Xi.
Mr. Xi has said the target date for sending an astronaut to the moon is 2025. China joins the astronaut club