Why Did China Send a Probe to the Far Side of the Moon?

The moon has a side it never shows us. Humans have flown by it to take pictures and crashed a couple of probes into it, but we’ve never landed a spacecraft on its surface to get up close and personal with our satellite’s hidden half. Until now.

First though, some clarification. Sometimes this side of the moon is referred to as “the Dark Side of the Moon.” That’s inaccurate. The moon is tidally locked with the Earth, meaning one side is always facing us,but the side facing away from us still gets sunshine. So the more correct term is the far side of the moon.

China’s Chang’e 4 probe will be the first spacecraft to poke and prod and study this hidden side of the moon. But why go there at all? A big reason for this mission is, well, because we can.As the name implies, Chang’e-4 is not the first of its kind. The first Chang’e mission, named after the goddess of the moon from Chinese mythology, was an orbiter that launched in late 2007, orbiting the moon for a year and four months before it’s planned impact in march of 2009. Chang’e-2 was built as a backup to Chang’e 1, and launched in 2010. It orbited the moon before setting off for the Earth and Sun’s second Lagrange point, and then continued on to fly by an asteroid in 2012. Busy little craft.

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