By: Krishna Rao
China recently launched the Chang’e 4 mission to the far side of the Moon. This mission was especially important and gained a lot of media attention since it was the first probe to ever land on the far side of the moon. China and the CNSA (China National Space Administration) had to face multiple technological hurdles to get the probe to the far side.
On the January 3rd, 2019, Chinese probe Chang’e 4 became the first successful mission to the far side of the moon #notaDisneymovie. However, why is this so significant? What’s so special about landing on the far side of the moon? And why hasn’t anyone tried landing a probe on the far side before?
To start, we can’t see the far side of the Moon from here on Earth. The reason for this is quite simple. Even though the moon does rotate, it completes one full rotation (around its axis) in the same amount of time it completes a revolution (around the Earth). So the same side of the moon always faces us no matter where we are and what time of year it is. Here’s a pretty good image to explain it:
Since the far side of the moon always faces away, it is hard to land a probe there because it is close to impossible for the probe to establish a radio connection to Earth.
So how did the CNSA do it?
Every radio wave that is sent to and from Chang’e 4 is actually relayed through another satellite, called Queqiao. Queqiao is essentially the third wheel in the relationship between Earth and Chang’e. It was launched in May 2018, and is about 65,000 kilometers from the moon.
Chang’e itself was launched in December and completed its journey the next month.
So now that it’s on the far side, what is it supposed to do?
Right now, the Chinese probe is all alone in an unfamiliar place. But to keep itself entertained, it brought along a few companions – cotton seeds, rapeseed, a potato, a fruit fly, yeast and a flowering plant. The cotton seeds actually ended up sprouting but died a few days later to the freezing cold #letsfertilizethemoon.
The probe also took along with it a camera, a radar, and a science experiment. It looks like Chang’e 4 is going to spend a while on the far side, scoping out this new territory for us. In the meanwhile, it has taken some great photos for us to see:
(Paragraph 1) “Chang'e 4.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Jan. 2019,
(Paragraph 2) Woods, Catherine. “Why Don't We Ever See the Far Side of the Moon?” PBS, Public Broadcasting
Service, 7 Aug. 2015, www.pbs.org/newshour/science/never-see-far-side-moon.
(Paragraph 4) Jianfeng, Zhang. “Relay Satellite Queqiao Plays Key Role in Exploring Moon's Far Side.” CCTV
News, China Central Television, 7 Jan. 2019,
(Paragraph 7) “China Moon Mission Lands Chang'e-4 Spacecraft on Far Side.” BBC News, BBC, 3 Jan. 2019,
(Paragraph 7) Anderson, Paul Scott. “Plants Sprout – and Die – on Moon.” EarthSky, EarthSky Communications
Moon diagram credit PBS.
Chang’e 4 images credit CNSA and BBC.