Stars and Stripes: Putting The Flag on the Moon

The story of how NASA planted that famous flag on the moon.

ByABC News
July 17, 2009, 4:14 PM

July 18, 2009— -- 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.

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

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."