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China becomes second country to unfurl its flag on moon

BEIJING: China has become the second country in history to unfurls its flag on the moon more than 50 years after the United States.

The pictures from China’s National Space Administration show the five-starred Red Flag holding still on the windless lunar surface. The images were taken by a camera on the Chang’e-5 space probe before it left the moon on Thursday to return to Earth. The space probe also brought the first samples of lunar rock to be collected in four decades.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the moon. A module carrying lunar rocks and soil was in orbit after activating a powerful thrust engine, Chinese officials said of the mission, which was launched from China’s southern Hainan province.

Scientists hope the samples will help them learn about the moon’s origins, formation and volcanic activity on its surface. If the return journey is successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the moon, following the US and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s. This is the first such attempt since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

The spacecraft was due to collect 2kg of material in a previously unexplored area known as Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), a vast lava plain, according to the science journal Nature. The samples will be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in northern China’s Inner Mongolia region, according to NASA.

China has planned for a “space dream” under President Xi Jinping. China launched its first satellite in 1970 but the first human spaceflight took decades longer with Yang Liwei becoming the first “taikonaut” in 2003.

The US planted the first flag on the moon during the manned Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Five further US flags were planted on the surface during subsequent missions up until 1972.

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