China is preparing to launch an unmanned spacecraft to bring back lunar rocks, the first attempt by any nation to retrieve samples from the moon in four decades.
Beijing is pouring billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the moon.
The Chang’e-5 probe, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess, aims to shovel up lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface.
The mission is set to take off from the Wenchang Space Center in the southern island province of Hainan, according to official Xinhua news agency. No date was provided.
The original mission, planned for 2017, was delayed due to an engine failure in China’s Long March 5 launch rocket.
If successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.