Most people know astronauts have left a few flags in space, but why does the flag on the moon appear to having ripples if there is no wind?
Apollo 11 was the first manned lunar landing mission, departing from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 16, 1969. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were among the spaceflight’s staff to make the inaugural trip to the moon, and were the first two men to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. Along with leaving a plaque on the moon that states, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D.,” the two astronauts also planted the first U.S. flag on the Moon’s surface.
Several conspiracy theories have surfaced surrounding the lunar space missions, with many critics stating the moon landings were a hoax by NASA and the government in desperation of beating the Soviet Union in the space race. The chief argument by conspiracy critics is the U.S. flag pictured on the moon – many argue that wind is present because the flag appears as though it is wavering in the wind, which would be impossible with the lunar ‘atmosphere.’
Keeping all moon atmospheric and flag flying elements in mind, a team at NASA designed a flag that would have a pole extended through the top of the flag so it would not hang lifeless on the moon. In addition to having some difficulty extending the flagpole, Armstrong and Aldrin also struggled when they tried to put the U.S. flag in the lunar soil deep enough for the flagpole to remain standing. In addition to being crumpled up in a box for several days on the mission, the twisting and maneuvering of the pole produced a wavering effect on the flag, which simulates the effect of Old Glory flying in the wind. The flag ‘flying in the wind’ effect remained after the astronauts were down positioning the flag in the lunar soil due to the lack of ‘atmosphere’ on the moon.
There have been six trips to the moon where astronauts have left flags as a token of their presence on the successful lunar mission. The flags were not specially made for the moon – they were regular flags like those that we buy at the store, except they were ordered from a government supply catalog prior to the spaceship’s departure and were modified to include an extension pole on the top part of the flag. There are only four flags believed to be left on the moon at this time – with the first two flags not surviving the ignition gases from liftoff on the moon.