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china national space administration

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

China has become the second nation to plant its flag on the Moon, more than 50 years after the US first planted its flag there.

The pictures from China’s National Space Administration show the flag holding still on the windless lunar surface.

The pictures were taken by a camera on the Chang’e-5 space probe before it left the Moon with rock samples on December 3.

Two previous Chinese lunar missions had flags on the crafts’ coatings – so neither could be affixed to the moon.

The US planted the first flag on the Moon during the manned Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Five further US flags were planted on the lunar surface during subsequent missions up until 1972.

Chang’e-4: China Mission Lands on Moon’s Far Side

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In 2012, NASA cited satellite images as showing that five of the flags were still standing, but experts quoted in media reports say they are likely to have been bleached white by the sun’s glare.

The first flag was said by astronaut Buzz Aldrin to have been placed too close to the Apollo lunar module and was, he said, probably blown away when the module blasted off.

The state-run Global Times newspaper said the Chinese flag was a reminder of the “excitement and inspiration” felt during the US Apollo missions.

The fabric flag was unfurled by the Chang’e-5 lander vehicle just before its ascender vehicle took off using the lander as a launchpad.

It has taken soil and rock samples to China’s lunar orbiter 9 miles above the lunar surface – which will then be enclosed in a module that will be aimed at China’s Inner Mongolia region.

The Chinese flag is 2m wide and 90cm tall and weighs about a kilogram. All parts of the flag have been given features such as protection against cold temperatures, project leader Li Yunfeng told the Global Times.

“An ordinary national flag on Earth would not survive the severe lunar environment,” project developer Cheng Chang said.

China’s national flag was seen on the Moon during its first lunar landing mission, Chang’e-3 in photographs taken by the lander and rover of each other. The Chang’e-4 lander and rover brought the flag to the dark side of the moon in 2019.

However, in both cases the flag was on the crafts’ coating rather than being an actual fabric flag on a pole.

The Chang’e-5 mission is China’s third successful landing on the Moon in seven years.

China is about to launch its fourth manned space mission and is sending a crew of three, including the nation’s first female astronaut, to the orbiting Tiangong space lab.

Chinese Shenzhou-9 capsule is set to lift off from the Jiuquan spaceport on the edge of the Gobi desert at 18:37 local time (10:37 GMT).

A Long March 2F rocket will put the astronauts on a path to dock with Tiangong in a couple of days’ time.

They will then spend over a week living and working in orbit before returning to Earth.

The mission is commanded by Jing Haipeng, who is making his second spaceflight after participating in the Shenzhou-7 outing in 2008 – the mission that included China’s first spacewalk.

Jing Haipeng’s flight engineers are both first-timers.

Liu Wang, a People’s Liberation Army fighter pilot, has got his chance after spending 14 years in the China National Space Administration’s astronaut corps.

Liu Yang, on the other hand, has emerged as China’s first woman spacefarer after just two years of training.

Her role in the mission will be to run the medical experiments in orbit.

Liu Yang has emerged as China's first woman spacefarer after just two years of training

Liu Yang has emerged as China's first woman spacefarer after just two years of training

Shenzhou-9 follows on from the unmanned Shenzhou-8 venture last year that tested the technologies required to join a capsule to the Tiangong lab.

Those manoeuvres went very well and gave Chinese officials the confidence to send up humans.

When it arrives at Tiangong, the Shenzhou-9 craft is expected to make a fully automated docking, but there is a plan to try a manual docking later in the mission.

This would see the crew uncouple their vehicle from the lab, retreat to a defined distance and then command their ship to re-attach itself.

Liu Wang will take the lead in this activity.

“We’ve done many simulations,” he said during the pre-launch press conference.

“We’ve mastered the techniques and skills. China has first class technologies and astronauts, and therefore I’m confident we will fulfill the manual rendezvous.”

Tiangong is the next step in a strategy that Beijing authorities hope will lead ultimately to the construction and operation of a large, permanently manned space station.

It is merely the prototype for the modules China expects to build and join in orbit. Mastering the rendezvous and docking procedures is central to this strategy.

At about 60 tons in mass, this proposed station would be considerably smaller than the 400-tonne international platform operated by the US, Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan, but its mere presence in the sky would nonetheless represent a remarkable achievement.

Concept drawings describe a core module weighing some 20-22 tons, flanked by two slightly smaller laboratory vessels.

Officials say it would be supplied by freighters in exactly the same way that robotic cargo ships keep the International Space Station (ISS) today stocked with fuel, food, water, air, and spare parts.

China is investing billions of dollars in its space programme. It has a strong space science effort under way, with two orbiting satellites having already been launched to the Moon. A third mission is expected to put a rover on the lunar surface.

The Asian country is also deploying its own satellite-navigation system known as BeiDou, or Compass.

Before leaving Earth, Liu Yang said the Shenzhou-9 mission would generate further pride in Chinese people.

“When I was a pilot I flew in the sky; now as an astronaut, I’m going into space. It’s higher and it’s farther,” she said.

“I have a lot of tasks to fulfill, but besides these tasks I want to feel the unique environment in space and admire the views. I want to explore a beautiful Earth, a beautiful home.

“I want to record all my feelings and my work, to share with my friends, and my comrades and my future colleagues.”

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