(ANTIMEDIA) – These colors don’t run….but if they’re embossed on rayon and marooned in the vacuum of space for 40 years, they may fade to white and disintegrate. At least that’s what some scientists believe is likely already happening to the five remaining American flags erected on the surface of the moon between 1969 and 1972. Contrary to our iconic public representations of the red, white, and blue flags juxtaposed against the crisp blackness of space, they are actually bone-white and featureless.
The American flags were placed on the moon during the Apollo missions at the peak of the space race with the Soviet Union. Over the course of the missions — Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 — American astronauts placed our highly symbolic national flag on multiple sites across the lunar surface. Experts believe five of the six flags still stand, though the rocket blast from Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s departure likely dislodged Apollo 11’s.
Ultraviolet light breaks down fibers and colors. On the moon, exposed to constant sunshine and radiation and alternating 14-day stretches of extreme heat and cold, the flags are almost certain to have turned white.
Five years ago, images of shadows cast during lunar sunsets and sunrises from Nasa’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) confirmed that some semblance of the flag remained. However, in an article for Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine, lunar scientist Paul Spudis stated that the intense conditions, including unfiltered sunlight, are likely to have caused the flags to begin disintegrating.
“America is left with no discernible space program while the Moon above us no longer flies a visible U.S. flag. How ironic.“
Perhaps even more ironic is the similitude of current American foreign policy as compared to the time at which the flags were erected. In 1969, America was mired in Vietnam with approximately half a million troops deployed; Richard Nixon, the fourth of five American presidents who would prosecute the war, had just taken office.
Almost five decades later, America finds itself ensnared it yet another multi-decade war as the third president of the War on Terror takes a seat in the oval office. Once again, there appears to be no logical philosophy guiding us other than economic imperialism and Western ideological hubris.
In its roughly 20 years of operation, the Vietnam War claimed anywhere from 1.3 to 3.9 million total lives. The War on Terror has run for over a decade and a half now; as of 2015, the war had already reached the 1.3 million figure of lives lost, and there is no end in sight. A half century of war crimes has irrevocably changed the meaning of the American flag.
As the United States slides further into corporate fascism, space exploration has been deprioritized. This isn’t to say there aren’t exciting missions planned. Private companies have lunar projects in the pipeline. NASA has plans for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. Evidence for potential life in the outer water worlds of the solar system has caused additional plans for probing missions to explore the moons of Saturn.
Beyond our solar system, new theories about the existence of artificial intelligence supplanting biological lifeforms have some scientists reevaluating the role of humans in exploring deep space. We have only taken our first steps into the incredible, mystifying universe. Perhaps during the next century, the human race will evolve to think outside the paradigms of nationalism and class warfare and, instead, collectively transcend the limitations of biology. Or perhaps, in spite of our accelerating technological advancements, we will continue to fade and fragment until there is nothing left worth presenting to the cosmos.
Another lunar project, the $20 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, will conclude in 2017 with five teams competing to land a robot on the moon and live stream footage or a panoramic image of one of the Apollo sites. Perhaps they will catch the exact moment the ghoulish, white American flag disintegrates like dandelion spores into the vacuum of space.