"Old Glory" features heavily in the official photos of every manned lunar landing, and snaps of the billowing flags, taken by telescopes on Earth, are the most effective response to conspiracy theories suggesting humans have never been. Nonetheless, while images taken in 2012 by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter demonstrate at least five out six flags remain standing, the chances the banners still display the stars and stripes are negligible.
Instead, the flags are almost certainly completely white by now — and may even be disintegrating under the strain of constant radioactive onslaught.
Each flag is composed of rayon, and cost US$5.50 at the time — around US$32.00 in 2017 — and if they'd been planted on the Earth, sunlight would've faded their vibrant colors within a few years, as ultraviolet light isn't fully absorbed by our planet's atmosphere.
On the Moon, the flags enjoy no protection from the elements whatsoever — the Moon lacks an atmosphere, and the barren surface offers virtually no shade. Moreover, a lunar day lasts 28 Earth days, meaning the flags will have been subjected to unrelenting UV. The chances they have been bleached entirely are high.
"For 40-odd years, the flags have been exposed to the full fury of the Moon's environment — alternating 14 days of searing sunlight and 100°C heat with 14 days of numbing-cold —150°C darkness. Even more damaging is the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from pure unfiltered sunlight on the cloth from which the flags were made. America is left with no discernible space program while the Moon above us no longer flies a visible US flag," said lunar scientist Paul Spudis.
Still, it's a wonder they're still standing at all in 2017. The man who made the flags in 1969, Dennis Lacarruba, said in 2008, he didn't believe there'd be anything left even then.
"I gotta be honest with you. It's gonna be ashes," Lacarruba surmised.
For instance, Tesla Motors and SpaceX founder Elon Musk intends to slingshot two tourists to the Moon in 2018.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, owner of rocket company Blue Origin, is likewise planning to offer lunar vacations in future.
Boeing have proposed setting up a base on the Moon, which would serve as a launching pad for human visits to Mars.
Google is running the Lunar XPRIZE competition, which will grant US$20 million to the first "privately funded team" to "successfully place a spacecraft on the moon's surface, travel 500 meters," and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth."