The country is making landing on the Moon look easy.

Red and Yellow

China’s latest visit to the Moon is already proving a huge success.

On Sunday, the country’s Chang’e-6 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the Moon in the South Pole-Aitken basin, where it scooped up samples shortly thereafter.

And then, earlier today, the probe lifted off to make its long return to the Earth.

But not before planting China’s flag on the Moon’s far-less-studied hemisphere that always faces away from Earth — a symbolic move that underlines just how far the country’s space program has come since its first uncrewed Moon mission a mere 17 years ago.

Big Star, Small Stars

The squat lander can be seen lifting the red Chinese flag with its robotic arm in an image taken by a mini rover that the lander deployed shortly after touching down on the Moon’s surface.

It’s China’s second sample return mission to the Moon, and the fourth to its surface, including two rovers.

The flag itself differs greatly from the ones we fly back on Earth. It’s made from volcanic rock basalt, which was crushed into filaments that measure only a third of the diameter of a human hair, to withstand extreme temperature fluctuations on the far side of the Moon.

China is already looking far ahead and planning to set up a more permanent presence on the Moon.

“The lunar surface is rich in basalt,” Chang’e-6 engineer Zhou Changyi told state-owned broadcaster CCTV. “Since we’re building a lunar base in the future, we will most likely have to make basalt into fibers and use it as building materials.”

It’ll take the spacecraft roughly three weeks to make its return to Earth. The plan is for it to drop off its loot in Mongolia around June 25.

By literally planting its flag on the far side of the Moon — the second time it’s visited its heavily cratered hemisphere so far — China is quickly establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. While NASA is still laying the groundwork for its long-awaited return to the lunar surface, China is forging ahead, running laps around its international competition.

More on China’s Moon missions: China Lands on Dark Side of the Moon, Prepares to Gather Loot and Return to Earth