It has been more than 40 years since astronauts sank American flags into the lunar soil. But are those star-spangled banners still waving? Images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera prove that five of the six are still upright, based on an analysis of the shadows the flagpoles cast on the Moon's surface, but the condition of the flags themselves is unclear.
The missing flag was knocked over by the liftoff blast of the Apollo 11 lunar module, as reported by astronaut Buzz Aldrin after the historic first landing in July 1969. After each of the six Apollo missions, culminating with Apollo 17 in 1972, astronauts left an American flag as a symbol of U.S. scientific and engineering achievement.
More about giant steps for mankind:
- Could the flags survive the fury of the Moon's climate, with its massive temperature swings every 14 days and intense ultraviolet radiation? Scientists say the flags must be badly faded, if they have not yet disintegrated.
- So far, the American lunar missions have been the only manned flights to touch down on a celestial body.
- In a 1961 address to Congress, President John F. Kennedy set a national goal of "landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth" by the end of the 1960s.