China now has a real flag flying on the moon.
The sample-collecting Chang'e 5 moon lander deployed a small version of China's five-star red flag on Thursday (Dec. 3), shortly before the mission's attached ascent vehicle launched into lunar orbit carrying the precious dirt and rock.
According to China Central Television (CCTV), this is the first time that China has realized the "independent display" of the five-star flag on the lunar landscape.
The flag weighs just 0.4 ounces (12 grams) and can "maintain its true colors" under a temperature difference of plus or minus 270 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius). The flag was deployed from the Chang'e 5 lander's body, not planted in the gray dirt.
A fabric first
Chang'e 5's lunar flag display system consists of three parts: the flag, a compression release device and a small pyrotechnic deployment mechanism. The entire system is about 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) long and weighs just 2.2 lbs. (1 kilograms), Chinese officials have said.
China's earlier lunar surface vehicles, the Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 4 lander-rover duos, sported flags that were painted on. Chang'e 5 broke ground by carrying a real fabric flag to the moon's surface.
The five-star red flag that unfolded in the form of a scroll is relatively flat and was designed to be wrinkle-proof, Chinese officials said.
The Chang'e 5 team spent more than a year selecting materials for the flag. A new type of composite material was chosen so that the five-star red flag can withstand the harsh environment of the moon and does not fade, color or deform.
"Although this is just a thin five-star red flag, it has a very high technological content," said Ma Wei, the commander of the five-star red flag display system project, according to CCTV.
Chang'e 5's flag is not alone on the lunar surface. The six Apollo missions that landed on the moon between 1969 and 1972 all planted American flags.
Leonard David is author of the recently released book, "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. This version of the story published on Space.com.