Stars and Stripes: Putting The Flag on the Moon

Tom Moser had no idea his top-secret project for the Apollo 11 lunar landing would be used by conspiracy theorists.

Moser, a young engineer at the Johnson Space Center in 1969, was tasked with figuring out how to fly a U.S. flag on the moon during the historic mission 40 years ago.

The success of the project depended on a small team or engineers -- and it had to be finished quickly.

Moser is now retired, but he remembers the mandate.

"Someone in Congress said, 'Make it happen,'" he recalled. "But it had to be done quietly, because putting a U.S. flag on the moon was politically sensitive."

It was sensitive because NASA would have to sidestep a United States treaty that bans the national appropriation of outer space or any celestial bodies.

Flying a flag on the moon was going to be a challenge.

How Do You Mount a Flag on the Lunar Surface?

Moser and his team had a long list of technical issues:

Where do you store the flag on the lunar module to protect it from the elements?
How do you make it easy for an astronaut, wearing a cumbersome spacesuit, to get it out of storage and set it up?
And how do you mount it on the lunar surface?

Moser started with an off-the-shelf flag that cost $5.50. The technical services department at the Johnson Space Center then developed a collapsible flagpole with a telescoping horizontal rod sewn in to a seam on the top of the flag, to extend it outward.

The flag design team flew out to the Kennedy Space Center just days before the launch. At 4 a.m. on the morning of the launch, they mounted the flag to the lunar module of Apollo 11 as it sat atop a Saturn V rocket.

Moser watched the lunar landing from home.

"I watched Neil Armstrong go down the ladder," he said. "It looked like he fell. I thought he had caught his spacesuit on the ladder, that it had ripped his suit open -- and that was the end of manned space flight and it was all my fault."

The ladder did not fail, the flag did not snag Neil Armstrong's suit and Armstrong did not fall. He just skipped the last step, jumped to the moon's surface, and said those memorable words: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

'Nearly a Public Relations Disaster'

The flag was deployed at 4 days, 14 hours and 9 minutes into the mission and it wasn't easy.

In Edgar M. Cortwright's book, Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, astronaut Buzz Aldrin recalled what happened when he and Neil Armstrong tried to set up the flag.

"It took both of us to set it up and it was nearly a public relations disaster," he wrote. "A small telescoping arm was attached to the flagpole to keep the flag extended and perpendicular. As hard as we tried, the telescope wouldn't fully extend. Thus the flag which should have been flat had its own permanent wave."

The wrong coating had been applied to the telescoping rod, so it wouldn't fully extend, which is why the flag looks like it is waving in the wind. Ironically, that famous picture of Buzz Aldrin posing next to the flag is often cited as evidence by conspiracy theorists as proof the mission to the moon was a hoax.

They claim the rippled flag could not have actually been on the moon since there is no breeze on the moon. The flag's waves, they argue, were created by a breeze in some top secret NASA stage set depicting the moon's surface.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Sabrina Allen is shown in this photo provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
PHOTO: Adam Sandler arrives at the premiere of Men, Women & Children at The Directors Guild of America, Sept. 30, 2014, in Los Angeles.
Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP Photo
Lovable Panda Triplets Get Named
ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
PHOTO: Video recorded Sept. 21, 2014 in Okanogan County, Wash. shows a black bear scratching its back against a tree.
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife