More than 40 years ago, American astronauts began landing on the moon during manned space missions. Each of the six times they landed, they left a U.S. flag, but how those flags are holding up decades has been a question many have asked over the years. NASA seems to have the answer now.
According to a blog post on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera website, new photos reveal all but one of the American flags seem to still be standing. Mark Robinson, wrote he was “a bit surprised that the flags survived the harsh ultraviolet light and temperatures of the lunar surface.”
It isn’t clear from the photographs what state the flags are in — Robinson speculates they are at least badly faded — but shadows cast by them picked up by the camera show they are at least in tact.
Robinson writes the lone flag that appears to be missing was thought long gone a while ago:
From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all of the sites, except Apollo 11. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct!
According to Robinson, the easiest way to spot the flags is to look at a series of different images of the area taken at various times during the day and watch the shadow change. Check out this time-lapse video with such a series of images showing the flag’s shadow at the Apollo 12 landing site:
Here is footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin placing the flag on the lunar surface:
Watch this CBS News report from 2011 questioning whether the flags still stood while also providing a history of how the flags were designed and why they were placed on the moon in the first place:
Note: As is reported in the CBS News report above, the Stars and Stripes do not officially “wave” on the moon where there is no wind. The flag is slightly bunched and designed to remain stretched out, giving it a waving effect.
Read a more detailed report about the flags on the moon, including animated GIFs where you can track the shadows of the flags, here.