How many flags are on the Moon?
Last Updated: August 23, 2022
Flags hold important meanings for many people around the world. They are often used to show pride in one’s country or to show support for a particular group or cause. Back during the space race, many flags were planted by NASA astronauts on the Moon as a sign of American achievement. More than 50 years later, are those flags still standing?
In this article, we will count how many flags are currently on the Moon, and how many countries managed to plant their flag on the lunar soil. We’ll also attempt to find out if those flags are still firmly planted in the lunar regolith or if the constant exposure to the harsh environment of space has caused them to deteriorate.
How many American flags are there on the Moon?
America is the first country to have physically planted a flag on the lunar surface. The Apollo space program resulted in some of the most audacious feats in human history. Not only did mankind set foot on another world for the first time, but astronauts also left behind a number of artefacts that are still present on the lunar surface today.
During the 11 years that the Apollo program was active, a total of 12 men walked on the moon. As part of theses missions, several flags were planted on the Moon’s surface.
The first flag-planting took place during the Apollo 11 mission when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men on the moon. It is said that the decision to include a flag was made very late in the project.
Unfortunately, not every Apollo mission made it to the Moon. Apollo 13 was intended to be a lunar landing mission, but an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks forced the crew to abort their landing and return home. In total, there are six American flags on the moon.
Where are the American flags on the moon?
- Apollo 11’s flag was planted in the Sea of Tranquility.
- Apollo 12’s flag was planted in the Ocean of Storms.
- Apollo 14’s flag was planted on the Fra Mauro Highlands.
- Apollo 15’s flag was planted on Hadley Rille.
- Apollo 16’s flag was planted on the Cayley Formation.
- Apollo 17’s flag was planted in the Taurus-Littrow Valley.
The below interactive map shows the location of every flag ever planted on the Moon.
Are the American flags still on the moon?
Conditions on the Moon are incredibly harsh, with temperatures ranging from -130° C (140 K) during the lunar night to 120° C (400 K) during the day. There is no atmosphere or wind on the moon, meaning that any flags that were planted would be exposed to the vacuum of space and the relentless rays of the sun.
Over time, it’s likely that the flags would have become faded and tattered. In fact, the flag planted during the Apollo 11 mission is thought to have been blown over by the exhaust from the lunar module as it took off from the moon!
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is a spacecraft that has been orbiting the moon since 2009. As part of its mission, the LRO has been mapping the lunar surface in incredible detail.
Over the years, the LRO took a series of photographs that showed the areas where the apollo mission took place. The images revealed that the flags planted during the Apollo missions are still standing!
How many Chinese flags are there on the Moon?
Since 2007, China has been working on its own lunar exploration program called Chang’e. Named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, the program has so far launched three robotic missions to the moon.
As part of the Chang’e 5 mission, a Chinese flag was affixed to the moon! This makes China the second country to have planted a flag on the moon, after the United States.
The robotic lander unfurled the 2m wide and 90cm tall flag moments before its ascender vehicle took off using the lander as a launchpad on December 3, 2020.
Chinese officials stated that the flag was designed to withstand the extreme conditions on the moon and would remain there “for a long time”. China plans to launch more missions as part of its Chang’e program in the future, so it’s likely that we’ll see more flags on the lunar surface in the years to come.
Did any other country place their flags on the Moon?
While the United States and China are the only countries to have physically placed flags on the moon, a number of other nations have sent robotic probes to the lunar surface.
These robotic probes were often adorned with the flag of their respective countries to show that they too had contributed to the exploration of the Moon. Some of them also carried a physical flag as part of their payload. Some of the countries that have sent probes to the moon include:
- The Soviet Union
- The European Space Agency (ESA)
These are yet to actually plant their flags on the lunar surface, but it’s only a matter of time until they do! And just to be clear, these flags do not indicate any sort of territorial claim on the moon. They’re simply there to show that humans from all over the world have been able to explore the Moon and take pride in their shared achievements in space.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the flags made of?
The flags that were planted on the Moon were rather simple in design: The flags were made of nylon material and held with one-inch anodized aluminium tubes.
What happened to the flags?
They seem to be still standing on the lunar surface to this day. However, it is believed that they have most likely been bleached white by the ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.
How much did it cost to manufacture them?
NASA did not initially plan to send flags to the Moon, it was a last-minute decision. The historical flag cost $5.50 and was bought in a Sears store nearby the Johnson Space Center.
Do the flags on the moon indicates the sovereignty of the United States over the moon?
No, the presence of flags on the Moon does not indicate sovereignty. The Outer Space Treaty, which was ratified by the US in 1967, explicitly states that no country can claim ownership of any celestial body.
Why do the flags look slightly different than flags on Earth?
As there is no wind on the Moon, The Lunar Flag Assembly has an extra metallic bar at the top, to which the flag is attached in order to keep it ‘deployed’.
Is it harder to plant a flag on the Moon?
Yes, it is much harder. The lunar dust is very fine and powdery, so it tends to ‘fly away’ when disturbed. This makes it difficult to insert anything on the surface, especially when wearing bulky space gloves.
Why did the Apollo 11 flag wave and flap in space?
Nasa has provided the following explanation: “Not every flag needs a breeze – at least not in space. When astronauts were planting the flagpole they rotated it back and forth to better penetrate the lunar soil – anyone who’s set a blunt tent post will know how this works.
So of course, the flag waved. Unfurling a piece of rolled-up cloth with sore angular momentum will naturally result in waves and ripples – no breeze required.”
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