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Are All the Flags Still Standing on the Moon?

Are All the Flags Still Standing on the Moon?

By Swapna Krishna

Yes. Next question.

Oh wait, perhaps you were looking for a more in-depth answer. The fact is, up until last week, we didn't know what had happened to the flags at the Apollo landing sites. Yes, they were planted, but in relatively shallow ground. Also, needless to say, the surface of the moon is a pretty harsh place. Imagine a flag flown for years in bright sunlight here on earth—the colors fade, the flag degrades. Now picture that, times about a million on the moon. It's not surprising that experts (yes, apparently we have flag experts) thought that the flags were likely pretty much gone by this point.

Well, now the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO, for short), sent into lunar orbit to create the most in-depth maps to date of the moon's surface, has answered our questions. Five of the six flags planted by Apollo crews are still standing, proud and tall. How did we figure out they're still standing? By examining the pictures the LRO sent back, scientists could see the shadows cast by flagpoles, moving steadily through the day.The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter website has images and flipbooks to show the shadows cast by the flagpoles. It's an impressive sight, especially considering how long ago the flags were placed on the moon and how difficult the conditions of the lunar surface are.

And if you're curious about that sixth, elusive flagpole? Well, that belonged to Apollo 11, the maiden voyage to the moon. It's not that the flagpole didn't survive in the harsh moon atmosphere; Buzz Aldrin claimed that the flagpole was knocked over when the LM (or lunar module) left the surface of the moon all those years ago. Looks like he was right, but c'mon Neil and Buzz—you couldn't have used a shovel?

What would you have put on the moon instead of a flag?

Tags: life, the moon, space, nasa, space travel

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About the Author
Swapna Krishna

Swapna is a Washington, DC-based freelance editor who loves all things space and sci fi. You can find her book reviews at S. Krishna’s Books (http://www.skrishnasbooks.com) and on Twitter at @skrishna.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.