The far side of the moon does not face the Earth, hindering communications with earthbound scientists, and making its previous exploration virtually impossible.
A successful mission would be a significant scientific achievement as well as useful propaganda tool for President Xi Jinping, who sees China’s largely military-run space program as a vehicle for enhancing national prestige.
A ‘rabbit’ discovers moon rocks
While China’s mission to the dark side of the moon would be a first for the world, Chinese spacecraft have previously visited the moon.
In 2013, the year Mr. Xi first assumed power, China became the third country — after the United States and the Soviet Union — to steer a spacecraft onto the moon. The rover known as Jade Rabbit operated for more than two years, and allowed researchers to investigate the moon’s surface remotely using spectrometers, and discover a new type of basaltic rock.
A year later, an unmanned Chinese spacecraft orbited the moon to test equipment and techniques for a future lunar mission. It carried a microchip with Chinese music, including a song by Peng Liyuan, a famous singer who is married to Mr. Xi.
Mr. Xi has said the target date for sending an astronaut to the moon is 2025.
China joins the astronaut club
China is also only the third country to send its own astronauts to space aboard its own rocket.
The country conducted its first manned mission to space in 2003, and has since sent several other astronauts and put a pair of space stations into orbit.
In 2016, China sent two astronauts to space for 30 days, its longest manned mission to date. The mission was China’s sixth human space launch, and the two astronauts more than doubled the national record for staying in space.
The astronauts docked with a space station, where they conducted experiments in a lab, as well as tested computer, propulsion and life support systems, according to state news media.