China has unveiled plans to visit the moon’s north and south poles late next year and for the first time return to Earth with samples.
The Asian superpower’s Chang’e 5 probe will undertake the mission to “further enhance the country’s aerospace development,” according to state media citing China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.
China’s maiden lunar jaunt was the launch of the Chang’e 1 satellite into the moon’s orbit in 2007, followed by a lunar probe onto its surface in 2013. The newly unveiled project would be a precursor to Beijing’s existing plan, announced earlier this year, to launch the world’s first mission to the far side of the moon in 2018.
China became the third ever country — after Russia and the U.S. — to launch a human into space in 2003, and sees space exploration as a key component of building the world’s most populous nation’s international prestige. Beijing also recently unveiled plans to launch a Mars rover in 2020.