China plants flag on surface of the moon before Chang’e 5 return

4 Dec 2020

Illustration of what a Chinese flag on the moon’s surface would look like. Image: © beebright/

China has made history in becoming only the second country to plant a flag on the surface of the moon, with help from the Chang’e 5 lander.

Chinese media has announced that the country’s flag “shines an even brighter red from [the] moon” following the launch of the Chang’e 5 ascender from the lunar surface. The country’s latest moon mission – launched on 23 November – aims to return to Earth with lunar rocks that will be analysed to better understand how the moon came to be.

If successful, this will be the first time lunar rocks have been brought back to Earth since the 1970s. It would also make China the third country to retrieve lunar samples, after the US and the Soviet Union.

Now, The Global Times has reported confirmation from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) that the lander – which arrived on 1 December – had packed samples of lunar soil and rocks and took off again just 19 hours later, bound for Earth.

The CNSA also confirmed that just prior to take-off, the lander vehicle unfolded a Chinese national flag made from fabric and planted it on the surface. This makes China only the second country to plant its flag on the moon following the US during the Apollo era.

However, the Soviet Union was the first to place its national symbol on the lunar surface on a metal ball deployed during the 1959 Luna 2 mission.

Measuring 200cm by 90cm, CNSA scientists said the flag represents cutting-edge technology as they spent a considerable amount of time deciding what material to use in order to preserve it for decades to come.

While not going into detail, its developers said the fabric flag should be able to withstand extreme temperatures and radiation, unlike many of the US flags brought to the moon.

A national achievement

“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,” said Chinese aerospace expert Song Zhongping to The Global Times.

“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.”

Chinese scientists will soon be waiting in the Inner Mongolia region to collect the samples once the craft lands. As reported by the BBC, the rock samples sent back will be of great importance to astronomy as they could help scientists precisely calibrate the “chronometer” used to calculate the age of planet surfaces in the inner solar system.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic