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China launching historic mission to be the first to reach the moon's far side – AOL

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China is set to launch the world’s first mission to the far side of the moon. Its Chang’e 4 robotic spacecraft is scheduled to lift off Friday at around 1:30 p.m. ET (2:30 a.m. in China, on Saturday, Dec. 8), Space.com reported.

The spacecraft will launch atop a Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Plans call for Chang’e 4, which carries both a lander and a lunar rover, to touch down on the moon in early January.

“Anything we land on the moon is significant, but this one is especially so,” David Paige, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said of the mission.

It is a successor to China’s Chang’e 3 mission, which successfully placed a lander and rover on the moon’s Earth-facing side in 2013.

Chang’e 4’s planned landing site lies within the South Pole-Aitken basin. The sprawling basin, which is 8 miles deep and more than 1,500 miles across, is one of the moon’s largest and oldest impact craters.

“This crater has the potential to tell us something about the creation of the Earth and moon system — how the moon formed, as well as how the early solar system evolved,” Paige said. “Understanding exactly when this basin formed and how it relates to other lunar impact basins is key.”

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A “Super Blue Blood Moon” rises during a lunar eclipse over Cairo, Egypt July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Student astronomy enthusiasts adjust their telescope to see the lunar eclipse of a blood moon at Marina South Pier in Singapore July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A “Super Blue Blood Moon” rises during a lunar eclipse over Cairo, Egypt July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

ANKARA, TURKEY – JULY 27: Composition of several images of the Moon shows the different stages of the Century’s longest ”Blood Moon” eclipse in Ankara, Turkey on July 27, 2018. (Photo by Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A “Super Blue Blood Moon” rises during a lunar eclipse over Cairo, Egypt July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A general view during a lunar eclipse of “Super Blue Blood Moon” rising over Cairo, Egypt July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A “Super Blue Blood Moon” rises during a lunar eclipse over Cairo, Egypt July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A lunar eclipse of a full “Blood Moon” rises behind the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Christopher Pike

A “Super Blue Blood Moon” rises during a lunar eclipse over Cairo, Egypt July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

An astronomy enthusiast looks through a pair of binoculars to see the lunar eclipse of a blood moon at Marina South Pier in Singapore July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A lunar eclipse of a full “Blood Moon” rises near the Oloitoktok town along the Kenya-Tanzania border July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Astronomy enthusiasts wait to see the lunar eclipse of a blood moon at Marina South Pier in Singapore July 28, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

A “Super Blue Blood Moon” rises during a lunar eclipse over Cairo, Egypt July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

A lunar eclipse of a full “Blood Moon” rises behind the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Christopher Pike

A “blood moon” is seen during a full lunar eclipse in Thymari, near Athens, Greece, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

People set up the telescopes to observe the Lunar eclipse in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong on July 28, 2018. – The longest ‘blood moon’ eclipse this century began on Friday, coinciding with Mars’ closest approach in 15 years to treat skygazers across the globe to a thrilling celestial spectacle. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo credit should read PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images)

This picture shows the full moon during a ‘blood moon’ eclipse as seen from Oloika town in Magadi, Kenya, on July 27, 2018. – The longest ‘blood moon’ eclipse this century began on July 27, coinciding with Mars’ closest approach in 15 years to treat skygazers across the globe to a thrilling celestial spectacle. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP) (Photo credit should read SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)

This picture taken on July 27, 2018 shows the moon during the total lunar eclipse, in the Israeli Mediterranean coastal city of Netanya. – The longest ‘blood moon’ eclipse this century began on July 27, coinciding with Mars’ closest approach in 15 years to treat skygazers across the globe to a thrilling celestial spectacle. Unlike with a solar eclipse, viewers will need no protective eye gear to observe the rare display. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

VAN, TURKEY – JULY 27: The full moon rises behind silhouettes of people prior to the totally phase of Century’s longest ”Blood Moon” eclipse in Van, Turkey on July 27, 2018. (Photo by Ozkan Bilgin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

People gather as they wait for the sun to go down and the appearance of the ‘Blood moon’ in Vienna, Austria on July 27, 2018. – The ‘Blood moon’ total lunar eclipse, is the longest of the 21st century. (Photo by GEORG HOCHMUTH / APA / AFP) / Austria OUT (Photo credit should read GEORG HOCHMUTH/AFP/Getty Images)

VAN, TURKEY – JULY 27: The full moon rises behind silhouette of a man taking a selfie on a bicycle prior to the totally phase of Century’s longest ”Blood Moon” eclipse in Van, Turkey on July 27, 2018. (Photo by Ozkan Bilgin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

ANKARA, TURKEY – JULY 27: Composition of several images of the Moon shows the different stages of the Century’s longest ”Blood Moon” eclipse in Ankara, Turkey on July 27, 2018. (Photo by Ercin Top/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)




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The lander and rover are each equipped with cameras. The rover also sports a ground-penetrating radar instrument designed to help scientists gain an understanding of the moon’s geological history as well as a spectrometer to study its chemical composition.

Chang’e 4 won’t be returning any moon rocks to Earth, but a successor mission planned for 2019, Chang’e 5, will. This would be the first time that materials from the moon have been brought back to Earth since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

“These missions are taking place in rapid succession, and that also demonstrates the resolve of this program to move forward toward the eventual goal of putting Chinese astronauts on the lunar surface,” Bradley Jolliff, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, told NBC News MACH in an email.

China has also announced plans to launch a rover to Mars in 2020, as well as additional crewed missions to low-Earth orbit.

China had been constructing its own space station, Tiangong-2. But a rocket glitch in July 2017 derailed the effort, and China is now planning to de-orbit the 8.6-ton space lab next summer, Space News reported. In April, China’s defunct Tiangong-1 space station plummeted through Earth’s atmosphere and burned up over the Pacific Ocean.

China, the U.S. and Russia are the only nations to have successfully landed spacecraft on the moon.

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