Article written by: Apostolos Christou
The rapidly-approaching 2019 will let us mark a half-century since human beings took the first steps on a body other than the Earth, namely our own Moon. But, come the New Year, lunar exploration is likely to make the headlines for one other reason: a number of robotic spacecraft built by three different nations will attempt to repeat the feat accomplished by the Apollo programme and land on the Moon’s surface.
First off will be China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft, expected to be launched at 18:15-18:34 GMT on Friday 7th December at the time of this writing. As the name suggests, it is the fourth in a series of probes China has sent to the moon over the last 10 years. The previous one, Chang’e 3, landed near a region called Sinus Iridum in 2013, the first lunar soft landing by a human artefact since 1976 [Remarkably, the Chang’e 3 lander is still sending back data after 5 years on the Moon].
Chang’e 4 will attempt another first: landing on the far side of the moon, in other words the part that is constantly out of view of observers on the Earth. For an observer on ...