Question Answered!

Apollo 17 Flag
LRO slewed 19° down-Sun allowing the illuminated side of the still standing American flag to be captured at the Apollo 17 landing site. M113751661L [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

The most common questions to the LROC team before launch concerned what will we see at the Apollo sites? Will we see the Lunar Module descent stage and rovers? What about rover tracks, or the American flags? As we now know, the NAC images clearly show all of the above items (see links to earlier posts at the bottom). 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?). Much has been written about the Apollo flags, a comprehensive summary is on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal webpage.

John Young Flag Salute
John Young captured saluting the flag while jumping! A great demonstration of the lower gravity on the Moon. Apollo 16 Lunar Module (LM) Orion and the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) are in the background [NASA/Charlie Duke].


The opening image was taken early in the mission, and is one of the best views of the American flag because the spacecraft was pointed towards the illuminated side of the flag, and Sun was low enough (56° incidence angle) such that distinct shadows were cast.

Apollo 16 Flag
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].

From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all of the sites, except Apollo 11. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct! The most convincing way to see that the flags are still there, is to view a time series of LROC images taken at different times of day, and watch the shadow circle the flag (see movie below; the flag is just above the LM descent stage).



Visit the Apollo 16 site in the full resolution NAC below. A full resolution version of the Apollo 12 time series is available here.


Explore all the Apollo sites on LROC's new Featured Sites webpage!

Related Posts:
Exploring the Apollo 17 Site
Apollo 11 Low Altitude
Apollo 12 Low Altitude
Apollo 14 Low Altitude
Apollo 15 Low Altitude
Apollo 16 Low Altitude North Ray Crater
Apollo 17 Low Altitude
Apollo 17 Low Altitude Shorty Crater

Published by Mark Robinson on 27 July 2012