China raised the curtain today on the most ambitious act yet of its lunar exploration program. At just about 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the Chang’e-5 Test 1 (CE5-T1) spacecraft lifted off aboard a Long March rocket for an unmanned dash to the moon and back that aims to test technology for a sample return mission planned for 2017 and, a decade from now, possibly landing astronauts on the moon.CE5-T1 marks China’s fourth lunar mission in the Chang’e series, named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology. Chang’e-1, launched in 2007, spent 16 months in orbit snapping the nation’s first images of the lunar surface. Previous Chang’e probes were left in space. Guiding CE5-T1 back to Earth poses a new challenge; entering the atmosphere at a speed of 11.2 km/s is nearly 50% faster than the return speed of China’s Shenzhou spacecraft, which has carried orbiting astronauts safely back to Earth’s surface.“Earthbound experiments can’t effectively simulate the complexity of the atmospheric environment,” Hao Xifan, deputy chief designer of the CE5-T1 and Chang’e-5 missions, told China’s S&T Daily newspaper shortly before the launch. He says CE5-T1 may be the sole spacecraft launched for engineering testing during China’s unmanned lunar exploration program.Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)According to Hao, a skip-reentry technology will be used to slow down CE5-T1. Comparing the technology to skipping a stone on a lake, he explained that the spacecraft will first dip into the atmosphere, then jump up, and finally make a gliding reentry toward touchdown. “The jump must be well controlled. If it’s too low, the probe may be burnt. If too high, it won’t be able to land in the targeted area.”CE5-T1 is expected to arrive in lunar orbit on 26 October. It will orbit the dark side of the moon and then head home, with a parachute-assisted landing somewhere in middle Inner Mongolia 8 days after its departure.“Although the upcoming mission is very risky, I have full confidence [in our success],” Liu Jizhong, deputy commander of China’s lunar exploration program, told S&T Daily.Joining CE5-T1 atop the Long March 3C rocket today are two small probes from Europe. One is a radio beacon known as 4M. Developed by LuxSpace in Luxembourg, 4M will start transmitting radio signals back to Earth for amateur space enthusiasts soon after the liftoff. The other microsatellite is PS86X1 from the virtual organization Pocket Spacecraft. They will bid farewell to CE5-T1 on the way to the moon and conduct separate lunar flyby experiments.CE5-T1 is a steppingstone to Chang’e-5, China’s last planned uncrewed mission to the moon. Among many other tasks, Chang’e-5 is slated to collect about 2 kilograms of lunar soil and return to Earth.