The American flags on the moon – are they still standing?
We’ve all seen the pictures of astronauts triumphantly placing an American flag on the surface of the moon, evidence of mankind’s excursion to a heavenly body far from home. But flag planting wasn’t as easy as the astronauts made it seem.
American flags on the moon
Apollo 11, the first mission to land on the moon, learned an important lesson about the moon’s surface when they tried to plant the American flag. It has been supposed that the dirt on the moon would be similar to earth’s. It was not and its unusual composition made the flag impossible to plant deeply into the soil.
Unlike dirt granules on earth which are roundish, moon dirt is flattened with sharp edges. The granules tend to lock into place making for hard-packed dirt. When Buzz Aldrin tried to push the flag into the moon dirt, he found he could only punch it a few inches in, not enough to ensure the flag would remain standing for any great length of time. Turns out it didn’t matter anyway. The flag was placed only 27 feet from the Eagle craft. When eagle took off, astronauts saw the blast of the rocket blow the flag over.
The subsequent flags each presented problems of their own. Locking mechanisms wouldn’t lock and some aborted missions had to let the flag burn up inside the craft. But for the flags that were successfully planted, are they still standing on the surface of the moon?
Are the flags sent to the moon still standing?
The flags sent to the moon were standard government-issued nylon flags. Nothing special was designed for the unique conditions in space. Scientists thought that after several years, the sun and radiation may have turned the flags white or possibly caused them to disintegrate altogether. But a review of photographs taken in 2012 by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter found flags placed during Apollo 12, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17 missions were still standing. They were also able to confirm that the flag from Apollo 11 was blown over when the craft left the moon’s surface. They were unable to determine if flags from Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 were still standing.