BEIJING – China has launched an experimental spacecraft to fly around the moon and back to Earth in preparation for the country's first unmanned return trip to the lunar surface.
The eight-day program begun Friday is a test run for a 2017 mission that aims to have a Chinese spaceship land on the moon, retrieve samples and return to Earth. That would make burgeoning space power China only the third country after the United States and Russia to have carried out such a mission.
China already has launched a pair orbiting lunar probes and last year landed a craft on the moon with a rover onboard. None of those missions were programmed to return to Earth.
China has also hinted at a possible crewed mission to the moon at a future date.