July PASS

Moon flags captured by LROC

John Young captured saluting the flag while jumping! Apollo 16 Lunar Module (LM) Orion and the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) are in the background [NASA/Charlie Duke].

How cool is this? – An Arizona State University professor has captured the Apollo flags left on the surface of moon, digitally, that is. (You can find the full Arizona Republic article here.)

High-resolution cameras orbiting the moon have captured images of five of the American flags left behind by during the Apollo missions. All the flags except for one are still standing. The lone flag is from Apollo 11, the historic first human moon landing in 1969, said ASU professor Mark Robinson, the lead scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC).

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 had previously 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 camera’s website. The site www.lroc.asu.edu also offers additional images, videos, answers to questions about the orbiter and cameras as well as a tool to request specific targets for the camera.

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 flag was captured in this image of the Apollo 16 site with the spacecraft slewed 15° towards the Sun; the shadowed side of the flag is seen by LROC. M175179080L [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

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 currently has no plans to send humans back to the moon. (Boo!)

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.

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