(CNN)An Australian-made rover will explore the Moon as early as 2026 in the country's first foray into lunar exploration.
Australia has signed a deal with NASA to develop a small rover that will have the ability to pick up lunar rock and dust and bring it back to a moon lander operated by NASA.
The lunar soil, or regolith, is expected to contain oxygen in the form of oxide and -- using separate equipment -- NASA will aim to extract oxygen from the samples. "This is a key step towards establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon, as well supporting future missions to Mars," the Australian government said in a statement.
The agreement, which includes a contribution of 50 million Australian dollars ($37 million), is part of Australia's Moon to Mars initiative.
"This is lunar history for Australia. We're going to see Australian businesses, researchers, design and build a rover that's going to go to the moon and do some interesting science," Enrico Palermo, head of the Australian Space Agency, told Australia's "Today" breakfast television show.
Palermo said Australia is "at the cutting-edge of robotics technology and systems for remote operations, which are going to be central to setting up a sustainable presence on the Moon and eventually supporting human exploration of Mars."
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the deal with Australia broadens the coalition of countries that is supporting humanity's return to the moon under the Artemis program.
"By working together with the Australian Space Agency and our partners around the world, NASA will uncover more discoveries and accomplish more research through the Artemis program," Nelson said in a statement.
The goal of Artemis is to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024 -- although that deadline may not be feasible because of problems with spacesuits, an August report by the NASA watchdog warned.
Artemis relies on partnerships, both international and commercial, to create a sustainable and lasting presence of humans on and around the moon, with the goal of eventually using lessons learned from Artemis to land the first people on Mars.