In this November 17, 2020, photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a Long March-5 rocket is moved at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province. If successful, it would be a major advance for China's space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission.
The last mission of its kind occurred in 1976, conducted by the Soviet Union's Luna 24. The mission is on a tight deadline because Chang'e 5 lander is solar-powered and won't be able to operate at night.
The Chang'e 5 probe, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to collect material that can help scientists understand more about the moon's origins and formation.
"That is very young for the moon - most of our samples are 3.5 billion years old or more", Siegler said in an email, noting that the area and other similar ones represented "late-stage volcanism" when the moon had enough internal heat for such activity.
China has other space goals in its sights; it aims to have a permanently manned space station in service around 2022. The spacecraft includes an ascender, lander, orbiter and returner, with the plan being for the lander and ascender to descend to the Moon's surface next month, where it will land near Mons Rümker. This is expected to happen by early December, according to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua.
The lander will drill into the lunar surface with a robotic arm to scoop out soil and rocks, about 4.4 lbs. The samples will be sealed into a container in the spacecraft.
If you miss the action, you can always watch a mother live stream capturing the moment the sample is returned to Earth. The materials will then be moved to a return vehicle for the trip back to Earth. The returner will eventually separate, re-enter our atmosphere, and land in China.
In the meantime, NASA is seeking to send a series of scientific missions to the lunar surface, including a rover that would hunt for water on the moon's south pole by 2023.
If the effort is successful, it will be the first time in more than 40 years that any nation has brought back samples from the moon. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s. "It will be very hard", said Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the Chang'e-5 probe from the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. Some portions of the area were explored by other missions, including NASA's Apollo 12 in 1969.
July 1964: China took its first official step into space, launching and recovering an experimental biological rocket carrying white mice.
China was late to the space race - it didn't send its first satellite into orbit until 1970, by which time the USA had already landed an astronaut on the moon - but it has caught up fast.
Joining the space race, the Chinese robotic space spacecraft is supposed to bring back lunar rocks in its first attempt.
Speaking to astronauts aboard the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft by video link in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "the space dream is part of the dream to make China stronger".
China's mission comes as NASA is pushing, under its Artemis program, to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972.
According to the Times, Brown University geological sciences professor James W. Head III said that the findings could have "implications way beyond the moon", as scientists don't now know why the Moon managed to remain hot for at least three billion years after its formation. China's unmanned Tianwen 1 spacecraft is expected to arrive at Mars around February 2021.