• Buzz Aldrin signature, detail in comments below
  • marks for gauging depth of insertion into lunar surface

Apollo 11 Prototype Flag

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As an Apollo artifact collector, I am so excited to have found the prototype build of the first flagpole assembly on the moon.

I brought it to Buzz Aldrin, and his eyes went wide. But from what I learned, there probably is no Apollo 11 flag on the moon today. Hold that thought; first some background… =)

About three months before Apollo 11, Robert Gilruth asked MSC's Technical Services Division to design a flagpole that could support the U.S. flag in an environment with no atmosphere. It had to be lightweight, compact, and easily assembled by astronauts wearing pressurized space suits. This build, nearly identical to the one placed on the moon by Buzz and Neil, comes from William R. Whipkey in the Technical Services Division of MSC.

The flag was such an afterthought, there was no place for it in the Lunar Module; they had to strap it to the leg of the lander!

The final version had a beveled edge for lunar insertion, but as Buzz told me, they beveled it the wrong way, on the interior, so the lunar regolith funneled into the central shaft, making it difficult to insert.

Buzz recalls: "It took both of us to set it up and it was nearly a disaster.... As hard as we tried, the telescope wouldn't fully extend. Thus the flag, which should have been flat, had its own unique permanent wave. Then to our dismay the staff of the pole wouldn't go far enough into the lunar surface to support itself in an upright position. After much struggling we finally coaxed it to remain upright, but in a most precarious position. I dreaded the possibility of the American flag collapsing into the lunar dust in front of the television camera" (Cortright, Apollo Expeditions to the Moon).

His concerns were not unfounded. Earlier this month, Buzz told me that Neil Armstrong clearly saw the flag blow over on takeoff. He ends my video interview with:

“We can say with total certainty that of six flags on the moon, ours was the best looking flag.

Until we lifted off, and it blew over.

Neil saw it [fall down], and he shared it with me. And we decided it wasn’t necessary to inform the public immediately.”

So one might ask why the recent detailed LRO images of the Apollo 11 landing site label details like a camera, but not the flag. A fellow space collector explained to me that once laid flat on the moon, with no atmosphere to protect it for 40+ years of extreme UV exposure and 500° temperature swings, the fabric surely disintegrated. But with no wind, one might assume it would remain intact, undisturbed until this day… and clearly visible, when laid flat, by that LRO mission.

But here arises the peculiar properties of the lunar dust. A recent study by geologist Marek Zbik of Queensland University of Technology finally explains the mysterious properties of the lunar dust from the nanoparticles within:

“That dust, the Apollo crewmen found when they went out to play in it, did some strange things: it rose above the surface when disturbed and hung there far longer than could be explained by the moon's weak gravity; it crept deep into the weave and cracks of virtually anything it touched and clung there as if adhesively attached.

Zbik made his discovery thanks to an instrument known as a synchrotron-based nano tomograph -- a hunk of hardware that didn't remotely exist when the Apollo crews splashed down... The infinitesimal glass bubbles scattered through the lunar material were filled with a highly porous network of alien-looking glassy particles that span the bubbles' interior.

and that would explain a lot. Nano particles can become electro-statically charged, which would impart the same property to the soil, perfectly accounting for its tendency to float. "

The lunar surface swirls in electrostatic eddies, rending the decomposed flag fabric to something unrecognizable. I learned all this after acquiring the beta build, and it makes it seem all the more precious.

solerena, jennifermnewell, KarlRaade, and 9 other people added this photo to their favorites.

  1. jurvetson 22 months ago | reply

    Buzz Aldrin salutes the flag, with a different gravity (literally and figuratively)...

    signature detail, with flag pinned at each end of the horizontal telescoping arm:

    Hinge detail:
    detailed description: Flagpole, anodized aluminum tubing, 2 portions each 47 inches long by 7/8 inches diameter. The lower portion with matte section, 2 red-anodized depth markers, and white nylon collar at socket top. The upper portion with another matte section, narrower plug at bottom with sprung ball bearing; at the top is a hinge with a single-action sprung locking device, and narrower-gauge telescopic crossbar extending from 47 to 60 inches. With nylon US flag, 35 x 60 inches, with hem at top through which passes the crossbar.

    Here is the NASA MSC preliminary sketch, and details from the NASA Report, Where No Flag Has Gone Before

    To make the flag easily accessible during the EVA, it was mounted on the left-hand side of the ladder on the Lunar Module, and surrounded by a protective sleeve to shield it from the 2000° temperature of the descent engine.

    "Because the final decision to fly the flag and attach the plaque was made so close to the launch date, a Lear jet was chartered to fly Kinzler, George Low (Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program), Low's secretary, the flag assembly, and the commemorative plaque to KSC before the launch. The flag and plaque were installed on the LM of Apollo 11 at 4:00 in the morning as the spacecraft sat atop its Saturn V rocket ready for launch.

    Even though the event took only 10 minutes of the 2 1/2 hour EVA, for many people around the world the flag-raising was one of the most memorable parts of the Apollo 11 lunar landing."

  2. casrose1 22 months ago | reply

    Thank you for this Steve. Beautiful Story .
    I am stickler for details so this really colors in
    a wonderful web of being Present in this moment.
    What is so nice about your photo journal
    it makes the story so personal...
    Like We are There !

    What is captivating to me is
    they did all this sophisticated intention interaction
    in 1969 !! In July it will be 43 yrs ago !!
    What the heck happened to the sense of Wonder
    that existed in 1969 ? The track we in USA on ?

    "Nano particles can become electro-statically charged, which would impart the same property to the soil, perfectly accounting for its tendency to float. " ( on the Moon ) !! These is a great idea for a children's story about science.. Make it real to them..
    It is a education that alters the way I will gaze at the moon now !!

  3. bike-R 22 months ago | reply

    You gotta love the typical engineer photo of that era, white shirt, ties, and of course the pocket protectors and slide rules, hey there's a thought, any slide rules that got us to the moon available from JSC/NASA? They would be worth a bundle.....................

  4. solerena 22 months ago | reply

    The only glimpse of optimism: the space adventure has started there and we are entering a second wave, new era with new technology...hope corruption will not destroy this priceless opportunity... The flag story is inspiring, with a touch of humor and humility...we do what we can...all space explorers are unbelievable heroes!

  5. Kevin Baird 22 months ago | reply

    Fascinating story.

  6. jennifermnewell 22 months ago | reply

    Amazing, thanks for sharing!

  7. Redmac1 22 months ago | reply

    I saw the flag at Bonhams during the auction. It was great to look at just prior to the sale. That is a great pickup.

    You were talking about the lunar soil. A further review of the ALSEP data has revealed that the movement of the terminator across the lunar surface stirs up the electrostatic properties of the regolith which disturbs the soil and moves it around. If correct, that will cover the footprints as well as flat objects laying on the lunar surface over time.

  8. solerena 22 months ago | reply

    i think Steve, since you have a flag, parts of technological puzzle, space travel capability in your portfolio and the initial flag - so you can get to the moon yourself and finally - get it right:) if not in physical biological body - as a hologram:) beam me up:)

  9. Pieces of Eye 22 months ago | reply

    Where did you put it?

  10. jurvetson 22 months ago | reply

    I'm thinking it needs to be on the first SpaceX mission to Mars... =)

    For now, it is "flying" in my office, as I try to coax the office into dedicating the entire lobby and hallways to space artifacts (currently housing two huge rocket engines, Apollo docking ring, Apollo Fuel Cell and two Russian artifacts). The flag is not that subtle as an art form, and so it takes some thought how to best integrate in an office environment....

    Redmac - very interesting. Can you share a pointer to that ALSEP data?

  11. bike-R 22 months ago | reply

    What????? no APOLLO ERA Lunar EVA suit to go with the flag? Ya gotta dress for sucess and make the pic look authentic.I could see a Lunar suit and the flag in your lobby now.
    Caption read <<<<<<<>>>>>>>

  12. solerena 22 months ago | reply

    I thought about a nice photo collage too...right...yes, take me to Mars...

  13. casrose1 22 months ago | reply

    The lunar dust being magnetic nano particles has me off in never never land .
    Yes all the Universe is magnetic fields everything working off one another ..
    But that the dust on Moon is static is to me exciting possibilities !

    My suggestion is to do a work of art showing how static cling works as you stated above "The lunar surface swirls in electrostatic eddies "
    Enclosed in Plexiglass with fan going and dust swirling which will wave this flag..
    Can have replications not authentic of other flags they planted on moon at same time.. and of course flags from all the global cities and countries you work with..
    Planted around this masterpiece You acquired ! All waving with dust swirling !

    Or if you want to keep it simple and more to line of the " Office"
    Just this Moon Authentic flag with Flags from India and China where you have offices too..

  14. jurvetson 22 months ago | reply

    Russia too... Looks like they used a very similar pole, with the droopy hinge...

    Alternate Realities

  15. sbove 22 months ago | reply

    would be very funny to attach a little music playing chip/speaker (like they wedge into greeting cards) with the MTV on-air-promo music they used over shots of this flag...

  16. Ned Trifle 22 months ago | reply

    Steve, I learn something great every time I click on to your flickr pages. Thanks for sharing.

  17. jurvetson 21 months ago | reply

    thanks. P.S. The high res photos from the LROC confirm Buzz's observation:

    "From the LROC images it is now certain that the American flags are still standing and casting shadows at all of the sites, except Apollo 11. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct!"

    More details and shadow analysis at this NASA site.

  18. ideastoday 21 months ago | reply

    It looks as though someone might've spent an entire day polishing that hinge. Apollo hardware always looks like it cost a million bucks. And maybe it did. :)

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