The year 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the first spaceflight that landed humans on the Moon. The mission was commandeered by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and is one of the most fondly remembered moments in human history. The monumental event was made especially notable because an American flag was placed on the moon, as a marker to commemorate this occasion.
There were five other Apollo missions to the Moon in the following years, and every one of them placed another flag, bringing the total number of American flags on the Moon to six. Many years have passed since and a lot of people are probably wondering if the flags managed to survive to be in space for so long, and what condition they are in. Well, as it turns out, the flags are still there, although definitely not in the condition they were back when they were originally planted.
The Six Flags
It would be an understatement to say that the photos of Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the Moon have become legendary. They have left a permanent mark on human history, and will only become more legendary with time. Unfortunately, time was not so kind to the six flags planted on the surface of the Moon between 1969 and 1972.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter managed to take images of five of the six flags back in 2012, and it was clear that they were still there. Unfortunately, years of sunlight have more than likely bleached all of the colors of the American flag from them. They are probably all pale white by now, and the only way to see any semblance of color would be to get close to them. Naturally, some of the flags might already be gone by the time you are reading this article.
Flying Too Close To The Sun
The Moon does not have an atmosphere that can absorb sunlight like the one on Earth does. This means that these flags were constantly under the strongest possible sunlight, which completely bleached them. The flags would start turning white even on Earth, where some of the ultraviolet light gets absorbed by the atmosphere, so it makes sense that it would happen even faster on the Moon.
Ultraviolet light can break down fibers and colors, and this is why the colors are disappearing from these flags. Days on the Moon last much longer than they do on our planet, which means that these flags were being under constant sunlight for over constant two-week stretches.
Another thing we need to worry about is disintegration. UV degradation can crack or disintegrate many materials, and scientists are beginning to worry that it might happen to the flags planted on the surface of the Moon. The flags are made out of rayon, which is a material that is susceptible to sunlight degradation.
With each passing year, we are most likely getting closer to the moment when these flags will completely disappear. Nonetheless, their impact will never be forgotten. They are a testament to an incredible milestone for humanity, and wherever happens to them, we need to make sure that their importance is never forgotten.