Apollo 17 Flag Still “Flying”

Yes, based on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images, it is possible to deduce that the flag is still on its pole AND that it has not disintegrated over time.  The flags were made of nylon so it logically seems like they should fall apart over 40 years of exposure to the vacuum and ultraviolet radiation of the lunar surface (not to mention micrometeorites).  But when assembling the images from LRO of the Apollo 17 site based on images with different Sun angle but similar spacecraft-to-site angles, it became clear that the 3 foot by 5 foot flag shadow was visible as the site proceeded through the lunar day (15 Earth days of light, 15 of night).  The pole is not visible since it is so thin (1 inch diameter) and the support rod that supported the flag from the pole was slightly less than 1 inch in diameter so it can’t be seen either.  As anyone knows when watching their own shadow cast on Earth, at dawn or dusk the shadow cast is farther and longer the closer the Sun is to the horizon.  In these LRO images, the same effect is happening and at lower Sun angles the flag’s shadow is spread over a longer distance making it more apparent.  But also, because it is still mounted on the pole, the distance the shadow is from the point the pole was pounded into the lunar surface is further.

This is very amazing and inspirational that mere thin nylon…not at all “space rated”… can survive so long.  We don’t know of course if the colors can still be seen on the nylon flag, but it may be a good assumption that the pattern could, at least, remain since UV would degrade the various colors differently.

This was discovered on August 20, 2011 in MoonZoo.

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