LRO Finds Apollo Flags On Moon.
Now, thanks to high-resolution cameras orbiting the moon, the mystery is solved: All the flags but one are still standing. The exception is the flag for Apollo 11, the historic first human moon landing in 1969, said professor Mark Robinson of Arizona State University, lead scientist for the cameras aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The lack of an Apollo 11 flag is consistent with astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s memory of the famous mission. Aldrin said the flag blew over from the rocket blast when astronauts left the surface.
Robinson previously had doubted whether any flags would be visible. “Personally, I was a bit surprised that the flags survived the harsh ultraviolet light and temperatures of the lunar surface, but they did. What they look like is another question (badly faded?),” Robinson wrote in a recent blog on the orbiter’s website.
Images taken by the orbiter show the flags and their shadows but aren’t detailed enough to reveal whether the Stars and Stripes are still visible. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is an unmanned spacecraft that has been circling the moon for more than three years.
The minivan-size orbiter has equipment that is photographing the moon’s surface, recording temperatures and measuring radiation.
The photographs are being used to map the surface and could be used to identify future landing sites, although the United States now has no plans to send humans back to the moon. NASA’s Apollo program included multiple launches in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was designed mainly to land humans on the moon and bring them back to Earth safely.
Signs of the missions are still visible on the moon’s surface. Photos taken by the lunar orbiter show tracks made by lunar rovers and equipment left behind, including backpacks jettisoned by astronauts. Images taken of the Apollo 17 site show the astronauts’ foot trails.
Moon Flags Likely Lost Their Stripes
Despite harsh conditions and the ravages of time, the U.S. flags planted on the moon in the past 43 years are still standing and casting shadows at all but one of the landing sites. This remarkable fact comes to us via images made recently by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, a robotic spacecraft orbiting the moon on a 3-D mapping mission.
Scientists have long speculated that all the flags except for one planted during the Apollo missions were still there, based on their shadows, reports rawstory.com.
But the flags are probably not red, white and blue anymore, as Paul D. Spudis pointed out for symbolism in his airspacemag.com blog post about the end of the shuttle era a year ago:
Over the course of the Apollo program, our astronauts deployed six American flags on the Moon. For forty-odd years, the flags have been exposed to the full fury of the Moon’s environment – alternating 14 days of searing sunlight and 100° C heat with 14 days of numbing-cold -150° C darkness. But even more damaging is the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the pure unfiltered sunlight on the cloth (modal) from which the Apollo flags were made. Even on Earth, the colors of a cloth flag flown in bright sunlight for many years will eventually fade and need to be replaced. So it is likely that these symbols of American achievement have been rendered blank, bleached white by the UV radiation of unfiltered sunlight on the lunar surface. Some of them may even have begun to physically disintegrate under the intense flux.
America is left with no discernible space program while the Moon above us no longer flies a visible U.S. flag. How ironic. The only Apollo landing site with no standing flag is the first one, Apollo 11′s. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff.
The most common questions to the LROC team before launch concerned what will we see at the Apollo sites? Will we see the Lunar Module descent stage and rovers? What about rover tracks, the American flags? As we now know the LROC NAC images clearly show all of the above items. From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all the sites, except for Tranquility Base, the Apollo 11 landing site.
The best way to see that the US flags are still there is to view a time series of LROC images taken at different times of day and watch the shadow circle the flag. This time lapse movie shows just such a sequence of images highlighting the movement of the flag’s shadow at the Apollo 12 landing site. More information about LROC imagery of the Apollo landing sites can be found on the LROC webpage:
- Moon flags likely lost their stripes (sfgate.com)