China successfully launched its ambitious mission to the Moon this week. The Chang'e-5 unmanned space probe must collect samples of lunar soil and rocks and return them to Earth by the end of the year. If successful, this mission would make China the third country to retrieve Moon materials, after the United States and the former Soviet Union, as well as mark the first time that China takes samples of another world’s soil and sends them back to Earth.

The Chang'e 5 mission, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the Moon, will collect material that could help scientists learn more about the origin and formation of the Moon. China's plans are to create an automatic base station on the Moon for further studies of the Earth satellite. This will be done by the next three Chang'e missions. In the 2030s, China is about to land a man on the Moon. In addition, China plans to obtain soil samples from Mars by 2030.

Chang'e 5 is probably China’s most complicated mission so far because all the hardware weights about 8.2 metric tons. To get Chang'e 5 en route to the Red Planet, China used the Long March 5, its most powerful rocket. It took off from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Center in Hainan province at about 3:30 PM EST.

Four robotic spacecraft for Chang’e 5 are supposed to bring between 2 to 4 kilos of lunar samples back to Earth. The mission is also aimed to be a quick one, lasting about 23 days from launch to landing. Chang’e 5 targets an area of the Moon called Oceanus Procellarum. Getting rock samples from there can help scientists understand how the Earth’s satellite formed and evolved, as well as learn about the volcanic activity on the Moon.

The lunar exploration mission will likely land the Moon on November 27 and return to Earth around December 16-17.