On November 23, China successfully launched its historic Chang'e 5 mission, named after the Chinese Moon goddess Chang'e, which aims to deliver the first lunar samples back to Earth since 1976. The mission is expected to land on the Moon around November 23 and return to Earth on December 16-17.

The Chang'e 5 spacecraft was launched on the heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket on Monday from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Hainan at 3:30 PM to begin its 23-day journey and deliver rock and dirt samples from the Moon. It was announced that the 8.2-ton unmanned Chang'e 5 probe entered the predetermined orbit at about 4:45 PM after the deployment of solar arrays. Upon its arrival, the spacecraft will collect the youngest samples of Moon rocks.

If successful, the Chang'e 5 mission would make China the third country to retrieve rock samples from the Earth’s satellite and deliver them to our planet, after the US Apollo and the Soviet Luna missions over fifty years ago.

Upon landing in an area surrounding Mons Rümker, a volcanic peak in the Oceanus Procellarum region, sampling activities will last around two days, with 2 kilos of material expected to be collected. Eventually, the samples will be transferred to facilities for handling, analyzing, and storing them. The thing is that Mons Rümker has rocks that formed 1.2 billion years ago, meaning that Chang'e 5 will help scientists understand how Earth and the solar system evolved.

This mission is part of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program designed to eventually facilitate a crewed lunar landing in 2030 and build an international lunar research station near the Moon's south pole. The program is conducted in four phases. The first included reaching the lunar orbit with Chang'e in 2007 and Chang'e 2 in 2010. The second is landing a rover on the Moon with Chang'e 3 in 2013 and Chang'e 4 in 2019.

Launching the Chang'e 5 mission (and Chang'e 6 later) is the third phase, which includes collecting lunar samples and sending them to Earth. In the fourth phase, scientists plan to develop a robotic research station on the Moon.

Earlier in July, the Long March 5 mission rocker also successfully launched the Tianwen-1 Mars spacecraft, which will orbit the Red Planet before landing a rover on its surface. If this mission is successful, China will send a manned mission to Mars later.