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Where No Flag Has Gone Before: Political and Technical Aspects of Placing a Flag on the Moon

  • Author(s): Platoff, Anne M.
  • et al.
Abstract

The flag on the Moon represents an important event in vexillological history. This paper examines the political and technical aspects of placing a flag on the Moon, focusing on the first Moon landing. During their historic extravehicular activity, the Apollo 11 crew planted the flag of the United States on the lunar surface. This flag-raising was strictly a symbolic activity, as the United Nations Treaty on Outer Space precluded any territorial claim. Nevertheless, there were domestic and international debates over the appropriateness of the event. Congress amended the agency’s appropriations bill to prevent the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from placing flags of other nations, or those of international associations, on the Moon during missions funded solely by the United States. Like any activity in space exploration, the Apollo flag-raising also provided NASA engineers with an interesting technical challenge. They designed a flagpole with a horizontal bar allowing the flag to “fly” without the benefit of wind to overcome the effects of the Moon’s lack of an atmosphere. Other factors considered in the design were weight, heat resistance, and ease of assembly by astronauts whose space suits restricted their range of movement and ability to grasp items. As NASA plans a return to the Moon and an expedition to Mars, we will likely see flags continue to go “where no flag has gone before.”

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