By Mia Becker-Hansen | Contributor
Two of China’s previous lunar missions had flags, but these were part of the coatings on the craft and could therefore not be affixed onto the surface of the Moon.
There have been a grand total of six flags placed on the Moon up until now. The first had been planted by Buzz Aldrin in 1969, and a further five during subsequent missions up until 1972. The first flag is said by Buzz Aldrin to have been probably blown away by the winds from the Apollo lunar module blasting off, as it was placed too close to the module when erected. The remaining five are said by NASA to still be standing from looking at satellite imagery, but are likely to have been bleached white by the Sun’s glare over the years.
The Chinese flag is 2m wide and 90cm tall, weighing around a kilogram in total. The flag has been engineered to withstand the environment on the Moon such as protection against cold temperatures, as “An ordinary national flag on Earth would not survive the severe lunar environment,” project developer Cheng Chang said.
China’s Chang’e-5 space probe left on the 3rd of December to collect the first lunar samples brought back to the Earth in four decades. The last to be collected was that of the Soviet Luna 24 mission, which brought back 200g of material in 1976. Chang’e-5 is picking up 2kg. This makes China the third nation in the world to collect lunar samples, after the US and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.
The samples are being collected from a previously unexplored area of the Moon known as Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), a vast lava plain, with the hope of providing insight on the Moon’s origins, formation, and volcanic activity on its surface. The probe is equipped with tools such as a spectrometer, scoop, and drill to facilitate this. These samples will be returned in a capsule programmed to land in Northern China’s Inner Mongolia region.
The Chang’e-5 mission is China’s third successful Moon landing in the past seven years. It is the latest mission amongst plans for China’s “space dream”, as quoted by President Xi Jinping. This is among a plethora of ambitious targets including a rocket more powerful than NASA and SpaceX which will be able to carry heavier payloads, as well as a permanently crewed space station. China has put billions into their military-run space program, hoping to catch up with the US and Russia after years of always being a few steps behind in space exploration.