The lander Chang'e 5, which has just collected samples with the aim of returning them to Earth, has unfurled a small version of the five-star red flag from China this Thursday, December 3.
In 2012, NASA shared with us the images of the Apollo landing sites taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) under lighting allowing us to distinguish the shadow of the American flags planted in the ground by astronauts. Mark Robinson, LRO's senior cameraman, was then surprised to find that five of the six flags left behind were still there (the last one had been blown away by the Lem's exhaust as it departed).
On the other hand, it's a safe bet that the star-spangled banners are no more. Exposed to forty years of lunar environment (strong thermal amplitudes of +130°C to -150°C and ultraviolet radiation), these flags are indeed today probably all white .
The United States is no longer the only one displaying its flag on the Moon. As part of its Chang'e 5 mission, which aims to bring back the first new lunar samples since the American Apollo program (1969 to 1972) and the Soviet Luna 16 mission (1970), China also took the opportunity to also leave the his.
This flag, which weighs only twelve grams , on the other hand, is not planted in the ground, but fixed directly on the lander. According to state media, however, it is "tough" enough to withstand harsh lunar conditions. The Chang'e 5 team would have spent more than a year selecting and developing the necessary materials. It should thus be able to keep its colors over the next few decades .
Note that this is not the first time that China has displayed its flag on the Moon. The previous lander-rover duos Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 4 had also sported them. On the other hand, these flags were painted. Here, the Chang'e 5 mission innovates by displaying a real fabric flag.
Going back to the mission, everything is obviously going according to plan. The samples were successfully collected and the ascent stage above the Chang'e 5 lander took off on Thursday, December 3 at 4:10 p.m. (French time). Six minutes later, the ascent craft finally reached lunar orbit where it was to meet the Chang'e 5 orbiter to transfer its cargo to it. The two ships finally reunited successfully this Saturday, December 5 at around 10:42 p.m. (French time).
The returning ship must now wait a few days in lunar orbit, while a narrow window opens for the shortest possible travel time. This return trip should normally take 112 hours . The ship must then deliver its precious "loot" to Inner Mongolia. The appointment is made in mid-December .