Chinese national flag debuts on moon: CNSA

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/5 0:19:30


The China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Friday showed photos of the first Chinese national flag on the moon. The photo was taken with the flag on board the Chang'e-5 lander vehicle before the ascender blasted off from the moon, marking another proud, inspiring moment in the memories of the Chinese people. 

As soon as the photo was released, it brought cheers from Chinese netizens on twitter-like Sina Weibo. As thousands of netizens left emojis of hearts, clapping hands, and celebrating ribbons on the social platform, some said "if there's a color for a miracle, it must be the color red on our Chinese national flag."

The flag, more stylish than before, was made from some special material and weighs only 12 grams. It is the third time that the five-starred red flag on the moon following the mission's two predecessors, chang'e-3 and -4. Only this time, it comes in the form of actual fabrics other than previous coating on.

The Chinese national flag made its moon debut in December 2013 during the country's first lunar landing mission of Chang'e-3, and it was recorded in pictures from the spacecraft's lander and its rover Yutu-1 took for each other.

Chang'e-4 lander and rover Yutu-2 brought China's national flag to the dark side of the moon, as the Chinese spacecraft made a historic landing in the unvisited region in January 2019.

The flags that Chang'e-3 and -4 carried were in the form of the craft's coatings, rather than an actual flag. Chinese space technological development has allowed it to take a step forward in the Chang'e-5 mission, the third consecutive safe soft landing on the moon in seven years. 

The Chang'e-5 flag presentation system was developed by China Space Sanjiang Group under the State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, better known as the CASIC.

To ensure a complete and smooth unfolding of the flag, the system adopted a secondary rod-type structure, which is applied in solar panel extending for satellites and other types of spacecraft, CASIC developers told the Global Times on Thursday.

The system weight has been controlled at around one kilogram, and all connecting parts of the system have been given special protection, such as coldness-resistance measures, to help overcome unfavorable lunar surface conditions, including a drastic temperature difference on the moon ranging from 150 C to minus 150 C, Li Yunfeng, the project leader, said in a statement the CASIC company sent to the Global Times.

"An ordinary national flag on Earth would not survive the severe lunar environment," so the research team also spent more than a year selecting the proper materials to make sure the eventual flag would be strong enough, survive under extreme coldness and heat and capable of showing the fine colors of the national flag and remain so forever, said Cheng Chang, another leading member of the developer team.

The 12-gram national flag represents cutting-edge technology, they said.

How to preserve its original color and shape are the two most crucial questions in designing a national flag that must survive more than 380,000 kilometers away from Earth, under extreme temperatures and radiation during its journey, Wang Ya'nan told the Global Times. 

To get a sense of how difficult the task it is, five of the six flags (except for the one Apollo 11 placed on the moon) brought to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s during six US crewed moon landings, have been bleached white due to decades-long solar radiation, although they are reportedly still standing and casting shadows.

Many reports say the Apollo 11 flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during lift-off.

The Soviet Union was the first country to imprint its national symbol on the moon, with a football-sized metal ball, carved with its national flag, full of explosives, smashing to the lunar ground in the Luna 2 mission in 1959.

Compared to such a method, China has a more advanced approach, which also greatly increased the complexity of the design, Wang noted.

The Chinese flag that Chang'e-5 displayed officially became the first and only fabric national flag that has ever been placed on the moon in the 21st century, which reminds many of the classic footage of an American national flag planted by Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 lunar mission more than five decades ago, observers said.

And they hailed that as the fresh and new icon of human's lunar exploration, the Chinese national flag would inspire today's mankind, just as Apollo 11 did, encourage and celebrate generations to make an endeavor to space. 

Displaying a national flag on a celestial body represents the comprehensive strength and technological advancement of the country, Song Zhongping, an aerospace expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times. 

"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," Song recalled. "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."

Some readers have left comments under images and video of the Chang'e-5 landing published on the Global Times twitter account in recent days, saying they would not be convinced and acknowledge China's achievements until the lander takes an actual photo of the American flag planted by the previous Apollo mission. 

"Is it an original video, or a TikTok post taken in the Gobi desert," one Twitter user wrote. "Where is the lunar dust while landing," another asked.

The landing was closely followed by space agencies from all over the world, and the European Space Agency, Russia's Roscosmos and NASA scientists have extended their congratulations.

Pang Zhihao, a senior space expert based in Beijing, said "the lander vehicle of Chang'e-5 was designed to turn off its engine about two meters above the surface to deliberately avoid blowing dirt."

And for the sake of innovation, the lander touched down on an unvisited region, which explains why there were no US craft nearby, Pang said.

Global Times

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