More than a half-century after US astronauts first planted the Stars and Stripes on the moon, China replicated the feat — though unmanned — by unfurling its red flag on the lunar surface.
Chang’e 5’s ascent vehicle lifted off Thursday night with a load of lunar rocks, the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported.
The probe touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms for a mission to collect about 4 pounds of rocks and bring them back to Earth, the first return of samples since a Soviet spacecraft did so in 1976.
The lander, which remained on the moon, drilled about 6 feet into the surface and scooped samples — as well as photographed the area and used ground-penetrating radar to check for minerals and water.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time, the vehicle lifted off for a rendezvous with a return craft in lunar orbit for the journey back to Earth, space agency officials said.
But the highlight before leaving the surface was what the space administration called the first real Chinese flag on the moon — a five-star, red banner made from fabric, according to the Global Times of China.
The country’s national flag made its moon debut in December 2013 during the country’s first lunar landing. It also made an appearance on the dark side of the moon in January 2019, the outlet reported.
But those flags were not made of actual fabric like the latest one, which was developed by China Space Sanjiang Group under the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp.
The flag was unfurled with a rod-type structure that is applied in solar panels extending for satellites and other types of spacecraft, CASIC developers told the Global Times.
All of the components have been provided with special protection, such as coldness-resistance measures, to help cope with the extreme lunar surface conditions, the outlet reported.
“An ordinary national flag on Earth would not survive the severe lunar environment,” team member Cheng Chang told the Global Times.
Chinese officials recalled the iconic images sent back to Earth from the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left behind the first American flag on the moon.
“Yesterday’s memory is still fresh and clear, when the US astronauts stepped outside their cabins and planted the first flag in human history, an American national flag, on the moon in 1969,” Song Zhongping recalled.
“But China is about to showcase our own national flag as well, which I believe is a recognition of the achievements and breakthroughs that we have made, which will be the most valuable thing.” (nypost.com)