China’s Chang’e-5 mission is off to collect samples from the Moon

China successfully launched its Chang’e-5 mission on Monday. And if all goes according to plan, by the end of the week, it will be orbiting the Moon, ready to collect samples from the lunar surface for the first time in decades.

China launches #ChangE5 spacecraft to collect, return samples from the #moon. It’s one of the most complicated and challenging missions in China’s aerospace history. #LunarProbe pic.twitter.com/rr24M3pSiC

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) November 23, 2020

Once the lander portion of the spacecraft is on the ground, it will have approximately 14 days — or the length of a single day on the satellite — to complete its mission. That’s because it’s not designed to cope with the extreme cold temperatures that come with nightfall on the Moon. The part of the Moon China plans to land on is called Mons Rümker. It’s a volcanic plain on the near side of the satellite that’s much younger than the craters Apollo astronauts visited in the 1960s and 70s. From liftoff to its eventual return back to Earth, the entire mission is scheduled to take less than a month.