How Many Flags Are on the Moon? 

Making it to the moon for the first time was an incredible moment in history. During the Apollo 11 mission, the USA also placed the first flag on the moon. Countries other than the USA have sent missions to the moon as well. Between 1969 and 1972, people made it to the moon six times. But have they all placed a flag on the moon? How many flags are there on the moon?  

Not all missions to the moon have put people on the lunar surface. Some have just sent probes to conduct research. But have the rovers ever taken flags to the moon as well? This article explores the flags on the moon and the significance behind their presence. 

The Number of Flags on the Moon

There are six flags planted on the moon, all of which are American flags placed by the Apollo missions. The first flag on the moon was placed by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission on July 20, 1969. 

Flag Picuted On The Moon
The flag of the United States, deployed on the surface of the moon, dominates this photograph taken from inside the Lunar Module (LM). Credit: NASA

Each flag sent with the Apollo missions was designed to best endure the harsh conditions of the moon’s surface. The flags were made of nylon and measured 3ft high by 5ft wide. Since the flags would have no wind to fly in once on the moon, it was decided to create a brace that would allow the flag to appear as though it was flying. The flag was modified to have a hem sewn along the top, similar to the hem found in some curtains to hang on a curtain rod. 

A metal rod inserted into the hem gave the flag the illusion that it was being blown out in the wind. Attached to an 8ft pole, the astronauts planted the flag into the lunar soil. 

What Countries Have Flags on the Moon?

Currently, the United States and China are the only two countries that have their flag on the moon. The six American flags planted on the moon were done so by the Apollo missions while China’s flag made it to the moon fairly recently in 2019 during the Chang’e-4 mission

The six American flags were placed by the Apollo missions, specifically Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16, and lastly by Apollo 17 in December of 1972. The Chinese flag, on the other hand, is not physically planted on the lunar surface.

The Chinese flag on the moon is not a fabric flag on a pole. Instead, the flag was printed on the coating of the Change-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover during China’s Change-4 mission. Since astronauts were not on this mission, they opted to print the flag on the rover to avoid the risk of the flag being blown away by the moon’s extremely thin atmosphere. 

In 2020, the Chang’e 5 moon lander deployed a real miniature version of the country’s flag, but this flag was also not planted on the lunar surface. 

Other countries have sent missions to the moon, but placing a flag on the moon is not required. Placing a flag does not claim any type of territory or ownership of the moon. Despite this, there are some countries that have sent their flags to the moon. 

The United Nations outer space treaty, enacted in 1967, has been signed by 110 countries. The treaty, which China and the United States have also signed, prohibits any country from claiming ownership of the moon or any other moon, planet, or type of celestial body in space. 

What’s Happened to the Flags on the Moon? 

People haven’t returned to the lunar surface for 50 years, so we don’t know with 100% certainty what has become of the flags. Yet, using what we do know about science, we have a pretty good idea of what the flags are like today. Flags on Earth endure temperatures and the sun’s ultraviolet light, which with enough time, causes the flags to bleach.

The moon doesn’t have an atmosphere that protects its surface from the extremely harsh radiation produced by the sun. Because of the moon’s lunar day cycle, the flags have alternated ultraviolet rays and 212°F heat to 14 days of a chilling -240°F and darkness. The temperature fluctuations could have caused thermal stress, weakening the flags and potentially making them brittle. The flags planted on the moon may also be exposed to micrometeorite impacts and temperature variations. The conditions have likely taken a toll on the flags.

Flag On Moon WIth Earth In Background
A close-up view of the U.S. flag deployed on the moon at the Taurus-Littrow landing site by the crewmen of the Apollo 17 lunar landing mission. Credit: NASA

Constant exposure to the harsh conditions on the lunar surface has likely caused the flags to fade and maybe even deteriorate. The flags have endured the moon’s environment for between 53 and 50 years. Although, many wonder whether or not they are still standing upright. 

As the Apollo 11 mission launched from the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin saw the first ever flag on the moon knocked over from the rocket’s propulsion. It’s often wondered whether or not the rest of the flags are still standing. Images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of the flags’ locations may hold proof the majority of the flags are still standing. In the images, there are shadows in the correct location pointing in the correct direction to be shadows of the flags. 

The Significance of Flags on the Moon

The purpose of the missions to the moon was definitely not solely to plant a flag. Despite this, the flags do serve a significant purpose. The flags are a symbol of accomplishment and pride. Through NASA’s Apollo program, the United States has showcased its technological abilities and demonstrated leadership in space exploration. The accomplishment was also made during the height of the space race with the Soviet Union.

Buzz Aldrin With Flag On The Moon

Although the initial flag-planting ceremony done by the Apollo 11 astronauts was purely for symbolism, each subsequent Apollo mission also had a flag ceremony. The flag ceremony and the photos resulting from it have become one of the most well-known moments during the moonwalk. The flags represent a visible mark of human presence on the moon. The flags are a testament to courage, scientific research, and the engineering advancements that man reaching the moon possible. 

Final Thoughts on Flags on the Moon

The number of how many flags on the moon is a topic that may continue to be speculated. Of the six American flags placed during the Apollo missions, we don’t know with certainty the current condition of them. We unfortunately don’t know how many flags are on the moon with complete certainty. It’s assumed that, at minimum, the flags have been bleached white by the harsh lunar environment, but it has not been confirmed. Perhaps one day, when people return to the moon and more missions reach the lunar surface, we will know for sure.

Even though the question of how many flags are on the moon may go unanswered for some time, the significance of the flags and the things achieved to get them there remains. The flags mark moments in history and tell a story of our bravery and ingenuity. As we look to the future, it’s likely we will one day see more flags added to the six currently on its surface.

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Astronomy has mesmerized me since my father introduced me to space magazines and telescopes. My dedication to astronomy and the pursuit of knowledge has led me to various places, experts, and answers I hope to share with everyone one day.

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