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Chang'e 4 Rover

China will try to grow potatoes on far side of the Moon

Last week, China made space history, launching a rover to the Moon. The achievement is significant because it's going to show us the dark side of the Moon for the very first time. The Chang'e 4 mission is unmanned, and includes a lander and rover that blasted off on December 7. It will take about a month to get into position to land. It is expected to make a historic touchdown in the Von Kármán impact crater on January 3, 2019.

This will be the first time humanity will land anything on the dark side of the Moon. To be clear, the dark side of the moon isn't called that because there's a lack of light there. The Moon is a tidally-locked satellite, which means its rotation takes exactly as long as it does to orbit our planet, i.e. 28 days. Thanks to that, the same side of the Moon is always facing Earth--and the other side is always turned away.

Therefore, landing on the far side of the Moon comes with complications. For one, the entire body of the Moon is blocking radio signals to and from Earth. To get around this, the Chang'e 4 will talk to Earth through a relay orbiter named Queqiao that China launched earlier in May. The orbiter is currently at a point midway between the Earth and Moon, allowing it to be the go-between for the mission and mission control.

But aside from the usual sensors and instruments, the Chang'e 4 rover is also carrying a surprising payload: potato and mustard seeds. The rover will plant the seeds within a protective canister, after which it will study any growth that occurs. reported on the mission statement, saying that the rover will additionally use a tube to direct natural light into the canister. The idea is to study if and how photosynthesis occurs, using only the light naturally available on the Moon. That information will be critical when setting up farms for Moon habitation.

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