China is planting the first ever national flag on the far side of the moon

red and yellow

China’s latest visit to the moon is already proving to be a great success.

On Sunday, the country’s Chang’e-6 lunar lander landed on the far side of the moon in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, scooping up samples shortly afterwards.

And then, earlier today, the probe took off on its long return to Earth.

But not before planting the Chinese flag on the moon’s much less studied hemisphere, which always faces away from Earth — a symbolic move that underlines how far the country’s space program has come since the first unmanned lunar mission just seventeen years ago past.

Big star, small stars

An image taken by a mini-rover that brought the lander to the moon’s surface shortly after landing shows the stubby lander raising the red Chinese flag with its robotic arm.

It is China’s second return mission to the moon and fourth to the surface, including two rovers.

The flag itself is vastly different from the flags we fly on Earth. It is made of volcanic rock, basalt, that has been ground into filaments measuring only a third the diameter of a human hair, to withstand extreme temperature changes on the far side of the moon.

China is already looking far ahead and plans to establish a more permanent presence on the moon.

“The lunar surface is rich in basalt,” Chang’e-6 engineer Zhou Changyi told the state broadcaster CCTV. “If we build a moon base in the future, we will most likely have to convert basalt into fiber and use it as a building material.”

The spacecraft will take about three weeks to return to Earth. The plan is for the country to deliver its loot to Mongolia around June 25.

By literally planting its flag on the far side of the moon – the second time the country has visited its heavily cratered hemisphere to date – China is quickly establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. While NASA is still laying the groundwork for its long-awaited return to the lunar surface, China is forging ahead and running laps around its international competition.

More about Chinese moon missions: China lands on the dark side of the moon, prepares to collect loot and return to Earth