<< The Body Politic

And the flag was still there…

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

As Americans celebrate the successful landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars yesterday (view some early images from the Red Planet here), we thought it appropriate to share this recent article in The Atlantic that takes a look at our nation’s lasting impact on another celestial body: the Moon.

Rebecca Rosen reports:

When NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009, of course scientists were hoping the spacecraft would add to the knowledge we have of our sole natural satellite–its geography, topography, weather, and so on. But one question many were hoping the LRO would answer had little to do with the moon’s environment: What had become of the Apollo sites, left behind by the humans who visited the surface between 1969 and 1972? […]

In particular, had the six American flags planted on the moon survived? The conditions were not friendly, Geologist Paul Spudis wrote:

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. […]

Historian and editor of collectSpace.com, Robert Pearlman, raised the separate issue of the quality of the flags. “We didn’t design a special American flag to go to the moon to last thousands of years,” he said. “They literally sent out a secretary to the nearby Sears and bought an off-the-shelf flag and modified it.

Still, despite all of this, the Orbiter has confirmed that all of the American flags from the original Apollo missions are still standing and casting shadows at their landing sites, except for the flag left by astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins from the Apollo 11 mission. This flag, Aldrin reported at the time, was blown over when the space craft took off from the Moon to return home.

Read the rest of the article and view images of the Apollo landing sites here.