NASA landed the first two astronauts on the Moon on the evening of July 20, 1969. The historic voyage was led by Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins. While Collins watched on from the safety of a lunar orbit, Armstrong and Aldrin flew down to the Moon in their Eagle Lunar Module (LM). Then, after spending six hours inside of the LM for systems checks, Commander Armstrong left the spacecraft to utter the words “it’s one small step for a man”.
Once the two astronauts had established it was safe to roam around the Moon, Aldrin planted the American flag – dubbed the Lunar Flag Assembly – on the Moon.
Commander Armstrong immortalised the moment on camera, capturing the moment Aldrin saluted the flag.
The LM Pilot would later call this exact moment the “proudest” of his life.
NASA said: “Buzz Aldrin, in an article written for Life magazine, stated that as he looked at the flag he sensed an ‘almost mystical unification of all people in the world at that moment’.”
Is the American flag still on the Moon?
Almost 50 years to the day after the US flag was planted on the Moon, many who remember the incredible moment are left wondering what happened to the flag.
In 2012, NASA asked the exact same question, prompted by a number of articles published by the media.
It has been suggested the exposure to direct sunlight and intense space radiation on the Moon has either partially or completely destroyed the nylon flag.
In total, NASA astronauts planted six flags on the Moon between 1969 and 1972.
READ MORE: What happened to ‘lost’ Apollo 11 tapes?
It is hard to imagine many of the flags survived 50 years in space and there is evidence to suggest the Apollo 11 flag may have been the first to perish.
Thanks to satellite pictures taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), in 2012 space agency has been able to identify three flags left standing on the Moon.
These are the flags of the Apollo 12, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 mission.
There is, however, some uncertainty about the fates of the Apollo 14 and Apollo 15 flags.
When Apollo 11 took off from the Moon, Aldrin recalled he was under the impression he saw the flag fall over from the force of lift-off.
As a result, astronauts on subsequent Moon landings would plant the flag further away from the LM than Apollo 11 did.
NASA’s James Fincannon said in the 2012 report: “Intuitively, experts mostly think it highly unlikely the Apollo flags could have endured the 42 years of exposure to vacuum, about 500 temperature swings from 242 F during the day to -280 F during the night, micrometeorites, radiation and ultraviolet light, some thinking the flags have all but disintegrated under such an assault of the environment.
“Fortunately the outstanding high-resolution images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera of the Apollo sites enable us to see if any of the flags still cast shadows.”