China to explore 'dark side' of the moon

Story highlights

  • China is considering landing a spacecraft on the moon's "dark side" in 2020
  • The feat is more technically challenging than landing on the near side
  • China is the third nation to successfully land on the moon

(CNN)China is considering landing a spacecraft on the moon's "dark side" in 2020 -- a mission, which, if successful, would make it the first country to do so, state media reports.

The planned mission will see the Chang'e 4 spacecraft orbit the moon before sending a rover to the surface, Wu Weiren, the chief engineer for China's Lunar Exploration Program told state-run broadcaster CCTV.
    "We probably will choose a site on which it is more difficult to land and more technically challenging... Our next move will probably see some spacecraft land on the far side of the moon," Wu said.
    China successfully landed a spacecraft - the Chang'e 3 - on the moon in December 2013, becoming only the third nation after the United States and Russia to land on the moon's surface.
    While the side of the moon not visible from earth has been observed by various probes, a landing has never been attempted.
    When contacted by CNN, Wu declined to comment further.
    The Chang'e 4 spacecraft was initially designed as a backup for the Chang'e-3, which released a lunar rover named "jade rabbit," which is still working on the moon.
    The Chang'e-3 mission marked the completion of the second phase of China's lunar exploration program, which focused on orbiting and landing on the moon.

    Next phase

    In March, China's official news agency Xinhua reported that China will start its third phase in 2017 by launching the Chang'e-5 spacecraft.
    Its mission includes orbiting, landing on the moon and then returning to earth.
    After making a soft landing on the moon, the lander will dig and collect a rock sample from up to two meters below the surface.
    Ouyang Ziyuan, a senior consultant in the lunar exploration program and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that Chang'e-5 will be launched at the newly-built Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Hainan, an island off southern China.
    "Since Chang'e-3 successfully completed its mission, we have had more time to explore a more comprehensive mission for Chang'e-4," he said.
    "That's why it's possible for Chang'e-5 to launch to the moon before Chang'e-4."
    Ouyang said he wasn't authorized to give details of the mission to the moon's far side.

    Space race?

    Some security experts fear China's ambitious lunar exploration program could mean a future of Chinese dominance over the moon's resources.
    These include water and Helium 3 -- a clean-burning fuel that could potentially offer an alternative to nuclear power.
    Other nations are trying to match China's accomplishments in space -- in what some observers are calling an Asian space race.
    Last month, Japan's space agency announced that the country would land an unmanned rover on the surface of the moon by 2018.
    China's current space program doesn't commit to it, but many analysts believe a manned mission to the moon is on the table