The photo of the Yutu moon rover taken by the camera on the Chang'e-3 moon lander during the mutual-photograph process after the successful landing of the moon probe on the moon on Dec 15, 2013. (Photo/Xinhua)
China has officially begun a new round of lunar exploration and will send the Chang'e-4 probe to the far side of the moon in 2018, China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) announced Thursday.
The far side of the moon is never visible to Earth because of gravitational forces and has never been explored by humans. Chang'e-4 will be the first mission in human history to embark on this expedition, said Liu Jizhong, chief of the lunar exploration center under SASTIND.
China already boasts mature science and technology for sending a probe to the far side of the moon, and is open to cooperation with international society, said Liu.
China achieved its first soft-landing on the moon with Chang'e-3 in December 2013, and it is still sending messages back to Earth.
Liu said Chang'e-4 is very similar to Chang'e-3 in structure but can handle more payload. It will be used to study the geological conditions of the dark side of the moon.
China sent a letter of intent of cooperation to foreign countries in early 2015.
China also plans to launch its Chang'e-5 lunar probe to finish the last chapter in China's three-step (orbiting, landing and return) moon exploration program. The Chang'e-5 lunar probe is now being developed by Chinese scientists, Liu said.