China has become the second nation to plant a flag on the Moon, according to photographs released by the country’s space agency and captured during the Chang'e-5 lunar sample mission.
The images were reportedly taken by a camera on the Chang'e-5 space probe, days after it successfully landed on the northwest of the Moon’s northside and just moments before it launched its return mission to Earth on Thursday. They were released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Friday.
The unmanned lunar lander was fitted with a flag-raising mechanism, and the two-metre-wide, 90-centimetre-tall flag is made from a special fabric that allows it to withstand the extreme lunar temperatures, project leader Li Yunfeng told state-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times. Cheng Chang, another leading member of the developer team, explained that "an ordinary national flag on Earth would not survive the severe lunar environment.”
It is more than 50 years since the United States first planted their national flag on the Moon during the manned Apollo 11 mission in 1969, followed by five more during subsequent missions up until 1972. Experts have noted that those flags left on the lunar surface are likely to have been bleached white by the sun's glare. To date, no other countries have planted their national flags on the lunar surface.
A tweet by the Mission of the People's Republic of China to the EU celebrated the historic occasion on Friday, saying "Proud to have our national flag Flag of China unfolded on the moon. The #Change5 probe collected samples and took off from moon. It will contribute to global scientific studies in fields such as the formation and evolution of the moon."
The Chang'e-5 spacecraft collected soil and rock samples from the Moon’s surface and took them back to its lunar orbiter, where they will be enclosed in a module and sent back to Earth. The materials are expected to land in China's Inner Mongolia region some time around the middle of December.
If successful, the mission will make China the third nation to bring samples back from the Moon, after the United States and Russia.
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