We don’t know. And with the U.S. space program closing up shop we may never know.
Here is a taste of an article on the subject from CBS News:
The flags waving behind are now among the most defining images of our time. But what happened to them is a question University of California Santa Barbara librarian Annie Platoff has been trying to answer.
Her research can account for four of the flags, including the one planted by the Apollo 17 mission. She believes the first two from Apollo 11 and 12 did not survive the ignition gases of the lunar liftoff.
“It wasn’t the intention for the flag material itself to last. It was just to be there during the, the event – the landing and departing from the moon. We didn’t have a requirement that the flag, the U.S. flag, had to withstand all the environments for eons,” Platoff says.
Made from nylon just like the ones at a dime store, though ordered off the shelf from a government supply catalogue, Annie Platoff’s theory is they are probably darkened and maybe more than a bit tattered.
“I would guess, over time, 40 years, the combination of sun-rot and micro-meteor impact is probably devastating. I mean it’s not a pretty picture to paint. The only way you’re going to test these theories is to go back to the Moon and look at the flag,” Platoff says.
Chances are, with so much of the space program coming to an end, it is not likely that American astronauts will be the ones to discover whether, after the rocket’s red glare, our flag is still there.