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Photo: NASA

China's most ambitious robotic Moon mission launched on a journey to the lunar surface Monday.

Why it matters: The mission — called Chang'e-5 — is expected to collect samples of Moon rocks that will be delivered back to Earth for analysis. If successful, these will be the first Moon samples returned to Earth since 1976.

Details: The Chang'e-5 spacecraft is expected to land in Oceanus Procellarum, where it will use a drill and robotic arm to collect about 4.4 pounds of Moon rocks, according to a NASA description of the mission.

  • The sample collected from that region is expected to be relatively young, giving scientists insight into what was going on with the Moon about 1.2 billion years ago. (For reference, the Apollo samples are thought to be about 3 billion to 4 billion years old.)
  • If the sampling goes well, it will make China just the third country — along with the former Soviet Union and U.S. — to bring samples from the Moon back to Earth.
  • The sample is expected to arrive back on Earth in mid-December, aiming for a landing in Inner Mongolia.

Background: China has launched a number of successful missions to the lunar surface in recent years.

  • The Chang'e-4 mission marked the first time a space agency had landed and operated a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.
  • China eventually plans to send people to the lunar surface.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

The coming land rush in space

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Space is the new Wild West. Nations and space companies are racing to come to a consensus on what they can own, mine and take possession of in outer space before competitors stake ground first.

Why it matters: Private companies are building their businesses on sending spacecraft to the Moon, asteroids and other objects in the coming years to eventually extract resources that will be used or sold.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 26, 2021 - Science

Axiom announces the crew for its first private ISS mission

Earth from space. Photo: NASA

An American entrepreneur, Canadian investor and Israeli investor, along with a former NASA astronaut, are set to make up the first fully private mission to the International Space Station.

Why it matters: The flight — expected to launch in January 2022 — represents part of NASA's bid to create an economy in low-Earth orbit supported by private companies.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 3 hours ago - Technology

A dark view of the future of autonomous weapons

A still from the video "If Human: Kill ( )." Image: Future of Life Institute

A new short film warns of the coming risks posed by the development and proliferation of lethal autonomous weapons.

Why it matters: Drones with the ability to autonomously target and kill without the assistance of a human operator are reportedly already being used on battlefields, and time is running out to craft a global ban of what could be a destabilizing and terrifying new class of weapon.