When astronauts first touched down on the moon in 1969 as part of NASA's Apollo 11 mission — and for every Apollo mission that followed — they left behind evidence that they'd been there, some intentional and some necessary. The most iconic of these were six American flags, all of which were thought to have been destroyed by the harsh conditions on the lunar service or at least knocked over my now. As it turns out, all but one are still standing.
Photographs taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite show that five of the flags are right where we left them. The first one, by Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, was blown down by the lift-off thrust from their lunar lander as it left the moon's surface to reunite with the orbiting command module. The LRO images also show objects such as the lunar rovers used by some Apollo missions, and even the tire tracks they left behind.
One of the most intriguing aspects of these photos is the fact that the remaining U.S. flags have all turned white. This happened due to bleaching by sunlight, which hits the flags for as long as 14 days at a time without any sort of atmosphere to filter its rays. Manufactured from nylon without any thought as to retaining their looks over the decades of lunar exposure — they weren't even expected to be standing for long — the flags cost only $5.50 in the 1960s. We're guessing that the flags eventually carried to Mars by Earth's astronauts will probably be made to last longer — and cost a pretty penny more.
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