What happens to a flag after forty-plus years on the moon? Well, lunar scientists aren’t entirely sure, but they can tell they’re still standing.
Thanks to recent photos taken of the moon by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), scientists have no doubt the flags left by the six manned Apollo missions are in the same positions the astronauts left them. LROC principal investigator, Mark Robinson, explained, “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!”
Still, investigators can’t be certain of the exact state of the flags and how badly they’ve faded or thinned over four decades. Many scientists are surprised the flags survived at all considering the strong ultraviolet light, radiation, micrometeorites, and temperature extremes that can range from 242 F to -280 F during a single day.
The images are part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera’s mission to provide a detailed map of the moon’s surface to assist in identifying safe landing sites for future lunar ground missions and to locate water or potential resources on the moon. To get the images, the camera used a series of rockets to enter the moon’s gravitational orbit where it remains traveling about 15 miles from the surface. Other photos taken show the paths the astronauts made as they walked through the lunar dust, left behind tools and equipment, craters, and more.
Although, it’s admittedly difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish much from the images, you can see photos from the LROC, including the ones showing the shadows of the flags, by visiting space.com.