China has begun preparations for a new lunar mission in 2018 when it plans to send a probe to the dark side of the moon not explored by humans so far, in a bid to create a new landmark in space exploration.
The far side of the moon is never visible to Earth because of gravitational forces and has never been explored.
The Chang’e-4 probe will be the first mission in human history to embark on this expedition, said Liu Jizhong, chief of the lunar exploration centre under China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) said.
China already boasts mature science and technology for sending a probe to the far side of the moon, and is open to cooperation with international society, Liu said.
China’s high-profile space programme attracted rare criticism from the country’s official media after NASA’s announcement of existence of flowing water on Mars last year.
The ‘Mangalyaan’ also stole a march over China last year making India the first Asian country to orbit the red planet.
"The US has sent more than 20 spacecraft to Mars since 1964, among which several probes have landed on the surface of the red planet. The Curiosity is still roving Mars and sending back information. NASA is leaving the other space competitors far behind," state-run Global Times said in an editorial last year.
"China should dream big in outer space. NASA’s far sight and one discovery after another have met our curiosity and gained respect from the world, including the Chinese people.
At the same time, its discoveries gives us a sense of urgency," it said.
China has an advanced space programme with a first soft-landing on the moon with Chang’e-3 in December 2013 which is still sending messages back to Earth.
Liu said Chang’e-4 is very similar to Chang’e-3 in structure but can handle more payload. It will be used to study the geological conditions of the dark side of the moon.
China sent a letter of intent of cooperation to foreign countries in early 2015.
The country also plans to launch its Chang’e-5 lunar probe to finish the last chapter in China’s three-step (orbiting, landing and return) moon exploration programme.
The Chang’e-5 lunar probe is now being developed by scientists, Liu said. By 2022, China also plans set up its own space station rival to Russia’s space station Mir that is jointly operated with the US.
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