How many American flags have ever flown on the moon? If you answered, six, you are correct.

Each lunar American flag was made of nylon material and was fixed to an aluminum telescoping pole. These flags came in a special kit that were carried on the outside of the Apollo Lunar Module on the descent ladder and stored inside an insulated tubular case to protect them from the heat of the exhaust, which could reach temperatures up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Most of the flags measured 3 X 5 feet.

Before the first American flag was ever erected on the moon, a controversy brewed over the legality of doing so. The Outer Space Treaty had already prohibited the United States from ever making a territorial claim to any extraterrestrial body. So, the United States had to make their intentions clear that they were not laying claim to the moon by erecting a flag there.

Four months after the landing of Apollo 11 in 1969 and the first planting of an American flag on the moon, Congress passed a bill that was signed into law by President Richard Nixon declaring that no flag other than the American flag could ever be erected on the moon or any other planet and that any such “act is intended as a symbolic gesture of national pride in achievement and is not to be construed as a declaration of national appropriation by claim of sovereignty.”

The first time an American flag was erected on the moon, it didn’t go so well. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had trouble penetrating the dust of the lunar surface with the pole. It turned out that lunar dust has sharper edges than earth dust, making it more difficult to penetrate.

It’s also not so easy to erect a pole in lunar dirt when you are wearing a spacesuit and dealing with 16.6% gravity. compared to earth. As a result, the two astronauts managed to get the pole submerged only seven inches deep. When they backed away, they saw that the flag could stand on its own.

However, they planted that flag only 27 feet from the Eagle landing craft. When the astronauts returned to Earth, Buzz Aldrin reported that the rocket blast had blown the flag over. NASA learned from this and instructed astronauts in subsequent missions to plant the flag further away from the landing craft.

The crew of Apollo 12 also had some trouble. Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean had trouble with the latch mechanism that was supposed to keep the flag horizontal. Because the latch mechanism wouldn’t cooperate, they ended up drooping the flag at an angle. That horizontal latch mechanism is also important for resolving the old conspiracy theory which claims that flags in space don’t fly or wave.

According to NASA, “In addition to the vertical pole that supported the side of the flag, they included a horizontal arm along the top of the flag to hold it out.”

Some of these flags are still standing. In 2012 the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took photographs of the landing sites for the Apollo missions 12, 16, and 17. Those photographs indicated that the flags from those missions remain standing on the moon, but sunlight and radiation may have so faded the colors that they appear white today.

As you know, June 14 is Flag Day.

The influence of American ingenuity is felt today around planet Earth and even extends out to the moon and all the way out to the planet Mars. When Buzz Aldrin saluted the American flag on the surface of the moon, he called it “the proudest moment” of his life.

Although you and I have never been to the moon, I hope that we can appreciate where our flag has flown and honor the American flag this year with the same level of reverence and respect as those Americans who have flown the American flag where no other flag had flown before.

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