Craft unfurls China’s flag on the far side of the moon and lifts off with lunar rocks to bring home

China’s lunar spacecraft said it unfurled its red and gold flag on the far side the moon for the first. The vehicle then blasted away early Tuesday morning with samples of soil and rock to be brought back to Earth.

China hailed the mission as a great success. The country has made major advances in its space program, which aims to land a human on the moon by the end of the decade.

The Chang’e-6 probe launched last month, and its lander landed on the far side the moon on Sunday. The ascender of the Chang’e-6 probe lifted off at 7:38 am Beijing time on Tuesday, and its engine burned for six minutes while it entered a pre-set orbit around the Moon, according to the China National Space Administration.

The agency stated that the spacecraft passed a test of high temperatures on the surface of the moon, and collected samples by drilling and collecting them from the surface before storing them in the container within the ascender.

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The container will then be transferred into a capsule for reentry, which is expected to return to Earth around June 25, in the deserts surrounding Inner Mongolia.

According to an animated video of the mission, the small flag was placed on the moon’s surface, but was actually attached to a retractable arm that was deployed by the lunar lander.

Hua Chunying, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, wrote on X: “Mission completed!” “An unprecedented feat of human lunar exploration!”

The far side of the moon is more difficult to reach because it does not face Earth. This makes communication with a relay satellite necessary. It is more difficult to land on the terrain, which is rougher and has fewer flat areas.

Xinhua reported that the probe landed in the South Pole-Aitken Basin. This is an impact crater formed more than 4 billions years ago. It measures 13 kilometers (8miles) deep, and has a diameter 2,500 kilometers (1500 miles).

Xinhua reported that it is the largest and oldest of these craters, which may give the earliest information. The huge impact could have ejected material from deep beneath the surface.

This is the sixth mission in the Chang’e Moon Exploration Program, named after a Chinese goddess of the moon. This is the second mission to return samples after the Chang’e 5 which returned samples from the nearside in 2020.

The moon program is a part of an increasing rivalry between the U.S., still leading in space exploration, and other countries such as Japan and India. China has its own orbiting space station and sends crews to it regularly.

China wants to send a person to the moon by 2030. This would make China the second nation to achieve this goal after the United States. The United States is preparing to send astronauts back to the moon for the first time since more than fifty years, though NASA has pushed that date to 2026.