After decades of catching up with US and Russian space programmes, China is ready to do something that neither of these countries nor any other country has ever done: to send a space vessel to the dark side of the moon.

Strictly speaking, of course, the moon has no dark side. But because of the way she walks around the Earth, our natural satellite shows us just one side, the other is constantly hidden from our view.

No one saw the dark side until 1959 when the Soviet Space Probe “Luna 3” was flying over it for first review and sent photographs. Even now, logistics for reaching the remote destination is so discouraging that no cosmonaut or probe has gone there.

This long “dark” period is expected to end later this year.

In December, the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) will launch a probe to the southern polar of the Moon with a weight of 2500 kilograms called Chang’e-4. Chang’e is the goddess of the moon in the Chinese mythology and the name of all Chinese lunar probes. A few weeks later, Chang’e-4 will land on the surface and deploy a small rover to explore the ground for the first time.

“The new mission will be an important step only because the dark side has never been visited”, said Dr. Paul Spudis, a senior researcher on the lunar theme based in Houston.

Spudis and many other scientists have long been fascinated on the dark side of the Moon, because its terrain is considered to be quite different from that of the side that we see. Looking directly at the geology of the landing area, Chang’e-4 can solve the long-standing mysteries around the Moon, including how it has formed about 4.5 billion years ago as a result of a collision between the Earth and another celestial object.

“The mission will allow us to find what we did not know about the Moon,” Pei Zhaoyu said, the deputy director of the CNSA Research and Space Programmes.

There is also a strategic reason for China to focus on a landing location near the lunar poles: the shadowed craters of high latitudes of the Moon may contain significant quantities of frozen water. NASA and a number of private companies, including Cape Canaveral, FL based Moon Express, are exploring the idea of using ice to produce rocket fuel or to produce water and oxygen for a future lunar colony.

Chang’ e-4 does not look for water as a main task, but the very prospect of this is an important technological step in this direction.