China is planning on sending the first-ever lunar probe to the dark side of the moon by 2020, a leading engineer announced on state-run television. The goal of the mission would be to examine the geological conditions there with the ultimate aim of installing a radio telescope.
China's lunar exploration program -- known as Chang'e -- is leading the mission, Zou Yongliao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' moon exploration department told CCTV in an interview shown Wednesday. A successful landing, which would be the first of its kind, could enable the Chinese to place radio transmitters on the far side of the moon, which currently can't be reached with transmissions from Earth. This new look at the universe woud “fill a void” in humanity's understanding of outer space, Zou said, as quoted by the Associated Press.
The dark side of the moon is not visible from Earth. While China became the third country (after the United States and the Soviet Union) to land a probe on lunar soil in 2013, reaching the dark side of the moon will require more satellite technology to communicate with the probe, simply because the moon itself is blocking radio transmissions.
“The communication problem will be solved by having a spacecraft orbiting the moon to relay radio signals from the far side of the moon back to earth,” Michael Brown, an observational astronomer at Monash University in Austrailia, told Al Jazeera. “This shouldn't be too difficult a problem to solve, given spacecraft orbiting Mars regularly relay signals from the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers that are driving around on that planet.”