A University of Tennessee scientist is helping search for hidden damage to

the Star-Spangled Banner so it can be restored.

Bill Blass, professor of physics, is part of a five-member team sponsored

by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center that is scanning the flag with a

special NASA camera built originally to study Martian rocks.

Blass said the camera's infrared images can find problems such as excess

moisture and oils in the flag fabric. Though hard to see, they cause the

wool of the flag to deteriorate, he said.

"Many problems have accumulated over years," he said. "They are invisible

to the naked eye and gradually worsen over time. With infrared imaging we

can locate these things much better than you can by just looking at


The images also will locate areas weakened from wear, Blass said.

The Star-Spangled Banner has been at the Smithsonian Institution since

1907. It flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md., during the War of 1812,

inspiring the U.S. national anthem.

Despite meticulous care, it is deteriorating from decades of exposure to

light, air pollution and temperature fluctuations, Blass said.

After it is scanned, the flag will be moved from its hanging position in

the National Museum of American History for a three-year, multi-million

dollar preservation and restoration project by the Smithsonian Conservation


It will be remounted in a new enclosure designed to prevent new damage from

pollutants, light or temperature fluctuations.

"This flag has been through a lot since being bombarded by the British,"

Blass said. "It's had a rough life. Because it's made of wool, the elements

have been hard on it."

"The closer we look, the more we will be able to help the restoration team

do their special kind of work."