China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft has successfully landed on the far side of the moon in a stunning technical achievement. The China National Space Administration (CNSA), founded in 1993, have released the first photos from the landing, which show the first close-ups of the far side of the moon’s surface. By landing on the far side of the moon without damage, which no nation has done before, Chang’e 4 is now poised to reveal things about the moon we’ve never seen before.
The Chang’e 4 lunar lander arrived at the moon’s surface near the south pole region carrying cameras, scientific experiments, and a rover named Yutu 2, also known as Jade Rabbit 2. The rover has six powered wheels to increase the chances that it will be able to keep working even if one fails and has a maximum speed of 0.1 mph. Its design allows it to mount an obstacle up to 8 inches tall and climb a 20-degree hill.
One of the most ambitious experiments carried by Chang’e 4 is a small biosphere inhabited by six symbiotic life forms. The experiment is the product of a collaboration between 28 Chinese universities, led by southwest China’s Chongqing University, to determine whether plants and insects can grow in the lunar environment. Liu Hanlong, chief director of the experiment and vice president of Chongqing University, said, “Our experiment might help accumulate knowledge for building a lunar base and long-term residence on the moon.”
Part of the biosphere contains potato and rockcress seeds in dirt, nutrients and water, along with silkworm eggs. Rockcress was chosen in part because it has been grown in space before, while potatoes could become a major source of food for future space travelers. The idea is that is that the plants will provide the silkworms with oxygen while the silkworms will provide the carbon dioxide and nutrients the plants need to grow through their waste.
China’s space program is now one of the most technologically advanced space programs in the world. The CNSA maintains an operational space station (Tiangong-2) and launched more rockets in 2018 than any other country with thirty-eight launches. The agency has publicly announced plans to land astronauts on the moon by the late 2020s or early 2030s.