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Flags in Space

Last modified: 2003-08-30 by phil nelson
Keywords: space | moon | mars |
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Flying a Flag in Space

The problems of flying a flag in the vacuum of space are fairly obvious. Most people know that the US flags planted on the moon were made of cloth or nylon and were rigged with a wire along the top and/or bottom so that they looked like they were "waving." Has anyone else heard the rumor that the Apollo 11 flag was actually knocked down by the dust kicked up by the exhaust of the lunar module, and is currently lying in the Lunar dirt?

josh fruhlinger, 1996-NOV-17

I recall seeing a film of one of the Apollo Lunar Module lift-offs where the camera was aimed out the window. Upon launch from the lunar surface, you could clearly see the U.S. Flag spin on its staff and was waving briskly in a direction pointing away from the rocket blast. There was no indication that the pole or flag were dislodged by the exhaust. I presume, therefore, that the flags left by the Apollo astronauts were all left standing after the departure of the LM.

That does not mean to say that the flags are there today. I work two blocks south of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum where a major exhibit is a LM on a simulated lunar surface, complete with astronaut mannequin and flag. The flag, which was similar to those used in the 1969-1971 lunar missions, has only been at the site since the museum's 1976 opening, and already it is quite noticeably faded. Here, the sun's rays are filtered by miles of atmosphere and the plexiglass roof of the museum. I dare say that the unfiltered UV rays hitting the lunar surface have fully destroyed all the flags left by the Apollo crews by now.

Nick Artimovich, 18 November 1996

After I saw the movie Apollo 13, I read several books about the Americans going to the moon, and I remember reading about this little-known episode. I can't remember exactly which book it was in, but it was either in an official NASA history or in Moonshot by astronauts Deke Slayton and Alan Shepard, so I would consider this much more than a rumor.

Dean Tiegs, 19 November 1996

I remember watching a special on the lunar landings and one of the astronauts (Buzz Aldrin, I think) mentioning that he actually saw the flag fall as they were lifting off and that they decided that mentioning this on their return would be bad PR (Public Relations).

Nathan Augustine

I thought of another place there is a flag in space: the Viking landers, which are still on Mars, had large flags prominently displayed on the sides. The Viking landers are, interestingly enough, officially museum exhibits now, since NASA gave them to the Smithsonian Insititution when they stopped working, making Mars the Smithsonian's least-visited location...

Joshua Fruhlinger, 18 November 1996

Astronauts and Cosmonauts

There were some non-US and non-USSR astronauts/cosmonauts, and I can remember that there were at least some from Germany and France. Did they take their flags? I guess that they had flags at least at the shoulders of their uniforms.

Foreign astronauts on American ships wore shoulder and chest patches of their nation's flags. Each US mission also had a distinct mission patch, which sometimes incorporated the flag of a foreign astronaut's country. I remember both of these things happening when a Saudi prince, who was also an aerospace engineer, went up on the US shuttle.

I can't speak for the Soviet Union, but several press confrences were held on Mir, the Russian space station when the American Dr. Shannon Lucid was on there, and Russian and American flags were on the wall behind the speakers. It appeared that they were ordinary cloth or nylon flags affixed to the wall at all four corners to make sure they didn't drift away.

In addition to the American and Soviet/Russian space programs, there is or was a European Space Agency which launced rockets from a site in French Guiana. This is a multinational organization, unaffiliated with the EEC/EU (I think Sweden and Austria were members of the ESA back in the '80s) which tried for a while to be a "third alternative" to the superpowers, especially for launching commercial sattelites for European companies and governments. They got quite ambitious -- they had a design for a reusable manned craft and were beginning to train Euronauts -- when they had a series of catastrophic failures, sometime in the late '80s. The ESA logo was a stylized teardrop shape with a lower case "e" whithin it, and along the outside rim of the tear were all the flags of member states.

Josh Fruhlinger, 11 November 1996

In a museum in Brussels there is a small (large desk size) Belgian flag in the exhibit with the moon rocks on display. According to the text (as best as I can remember) the astronauts brought flags from many nations with them on the trip. These were then presented to the respective nations at various functions.

Nathan Bliss, 18 November 1996

Flags on Venus and Mars

After seeing pictures of the Venus landers Vinera 9 through 14, which landed on the surface of Venus from 1975 to 1982, all had small flags of the Soviet Union on them on one place or another, just as the American flag was on the Viking Mars lander.
Jaymz Schmidt, 19 May 2001