China is set to launch a pair of lunar missions in 2018 that’s unlike anything done by any other country: Land on the far side of the moon. Collectively known as Chang'e 4, the missions are the country's latest in a string of space developments over the past few years. Scheduled to be launched in June, the first lunar mission will carry a 425 kg relay satellite and place it about 60,000 km behind the moon, to create a communications link between Earth and the lunar far side. The far side of the moon is part which is not visible from earth.
Once the link is successfully set up, the country will launch a second mission to send a lander along with a rover to the far side of the moon. Timely guidance by satellites will allow safe landing on the unexplored region on the moon. Apart from carrying equipment to study the geology of the area, the Chang'e 4 lander will also bring with it a container filled with seeds and insects. The container will be used in a process to observe the growing of plants and animals on the moon.
"The container will send potatoes, arabidopsis seeds and silkworm eggs to the surface of the moon. The eggs will hatch into silkworms, which can produce carbon dioxide, while the potatoes and seeds emit oxygen through photosynthesis. Together, they can establish a simple ecosystem on the moon," said Zhang Yuanxun, chief designer of the container. The container will be fitted with light pipes to help in the growth of the plants and insects held inside it, while a set of specially designed batteries will provide a steady energy supply.
In 2013, China completed its first lunar landing since 1976 with the Jade Rabbit rover and the Chang'e-3 spacecraft. The Chang'e 4 mission is the latest in China's lunar exploration programme.