CHINA yesterday launched a rocket into space, aiming to become the first country to “soft” land a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon.

A Long March 3B rocket carrying the Chang’e-4 lunar lander blasted off at 6.23pm GMT (2:23 am ocal time on Saturday) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China.

American reports said that Chinese authorities did not broadcast the launch, but an unofficial live stream recorded near the site “showed the rocket rise from the launch pad until its flames looked like a bright star in the area’s dark skies.”

With this mission, China wants to become the first country to ever successfully undertake such a landing on a very unknown part of the solar system.

The moon’s far side is also known as the dark side because it permanently faces away from Earth.

It is known that its surface is different composition from sites on the near side, where previous lunar missions, including the manned Apollo landings, have taken place.

The plan is for the Chang’e-’s lander-rover duo to touch down in the moon’s South Pole‐Aitken basin in about 27 days time.

With a satellite already in orbit around the moon to relay instructions and gather information the rover will then study both the surface and subsurface of this region.

In a study published last month, Yingzhuo Jia, of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his colleagues laid out the mission’s chief scientific objectives.

These include a low-frequency radio-astronomical study on the lunar surface, a shallow-structure investigation at the lunar far side within the roving area, and topographic and mineralogical composition studies of the lunar far side within the rover’s patrol area.

Yingzhuo Jia said: “The lunar far side has been believed as the best place for the low-frequency radio astronomical observation.”

The Chang’e-4’s design is based on that of its predecessor, Chang’e-3, which deployed a landing craft to the moon’s Mare Imbrium region on the visible side of the moon in 2013.

The latest lander is carrying two cameras – a German-built radiation experiment called LND, and a spectrometer that will perform the low-frequency radio astronomy observations.

According to the BBC’s science editor Paul Rincon, the rover will carry a panoramic camera; a radar to probe beneath the lunar surface; an imaging spectrometer to identify minerals; and an experiment to examine the interaction of the solar wind (a stream of energised particles from the Sun) with the lunar surface.

“The mission is part of a larger Chinese programme of lunar exploration,” explained Rincon. “The first and second Chang’e missions were designed to gather data from orbit, while the third and fourth were built for surface operations.

“Chang’e-5 and 6 are sample return missions, delivering lunar rock and soil to laboratories on Earth.”

If successful, the mission will propel the Chinese space programme to a leading position in one of the most important areas of lunar exploration.

One of the onboard experiments which is exciting scientists involves the potential to grow food on the moon using a 3kg container with potato and arabidopsis plant seeds – a “lunar mini biosphere” experiment designed by 28 Chinese universities.

“We want to study the respiration of the seeds and the photosynthesis on the Moon,” Liu Hanlong, the experiment’s chief director, told a state-run news agency earlier this year.

Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment, said: “We have to keep the temperature in the ‘mini biosphere’ within a range from one degree to 30 degrees, and properly control the humidity and nutrition. We will use a tube to direct the natural light on the surface of Moon into the tin to make the plants grow.”