China launches the probe to explore the dark side of the Moon: Xinhua - Reuters

A Long March-3B rocket with lunar changer Chang and 4 from the Xichang satellite launch center in Sichuan Province, China, December 8, 2018. REUTERS / Cross

BEIJING (Reuters) – China launched a first probe on Saturday to explore the dark side of the Moon, marking another milestone in its ambitious space program, reported the official Xinhua News agency.

It is expected that the probe, Chang & # 39; e-4, will make the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon, according to Xinhua. The previous spacecraft saw the farthest side of the Moon, but none landed on it.

The Moon is firmly stuck on the Earth, rotating at the same speed as it orbits around our planet, so the far side is never visible from the Earth.

The advancement of the Chinese space program has been a priority of its leaders, with President Xi Jinping calling on China to establish itself as a space power.

At 2:23 am (Friday's 1823 GMT), a Long March-3B rocket, which carried the probe including a lander and a rover, was launched from the Xichang satellite launch center in southwest China, Xinhua said. .

The tasks of the Chang & # 39; e-4 probe include low-frequency radio-astronomical observation, soil and soil shape detection, mineral composition detection, and neutron radiation measurement and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon, Xinhua cited the Chinese national space administration.

China intends to reach Russia and the United States to become a major space power by 2030. The construction of its manned space station is planned for next year.

However, while China has insisted that its ambitions are purely peaceful, the US Department of Defense has accused it of pursuing activities to prevent other nations from using space resources during a crisis.

Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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