We will always remember iconic images of American flags, such as the one raised by United States Marines on the volcanic Japanese island of Iwo Jima; the Ground Zero flag raised by the firefighters after 9/11; and the flag flown at Fort McHenry which inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Fifty years ago in July, Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., took their first steps on the surface of the moon and planted a United States flag. It was a symbolic act of goodwill, of pride and of humanity’s accomplishment; the entire world celebrated as one.
A United Nations treaty prohibited the United States or any other country from claiming the moon as its territory. According NASA records, over the years, the United States has planted six United States flags by six Apollo missions that landed on the moon from 1969-1972.
The first flag planted by Apollo 11 astronauts was a 3×5 foot nylon flag made by Annin Flagmakers that cost NASA $5.50. The flag was packed and mounted on the side of the lunar module near the ladder, so it would be accessible for the astronauts to retrieve it, according to NASA.
After 50 years, are the flags planted by the astronauts still standing? According to Buzz Aldrin, their flag was blown away by the exhaust of the lunar module as it blasted off to rendezvous with astronaut Michael Collins on board the Columbia, their command and service module orbiting the moon.
According to lunar scientist Paul Spudis, the flags on the moon have been exposed to searing sunlight and numbing cold for decades. The ultraviolet radiation from unfiltered sunlight has turned the United States flag white.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has photographed five of the six flags left by Apollo astronauts from their missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.