A few months before he died, Reg Turnill, the BBC’s space correspondent during the Space Race, the frenzied competition that culminated in the Moon Landings in 1969, spoke at length about the first man to walk on our lonely satellite, Neil Armstrong.
In that conversation, printed on the BBC website on the date of Armstrong’s passing, Turnill intimated that the original Moon landing could have had an altogether more tragic outcome if one of the two astronauts on the surface (Aldrin or Armstrong) had suffered an injury.
An astronaut with a broken ankle, for example, would have been left behind, as his companion would not have been able to carry him up the ladder to the landing craft. “It was accepted”, Turnill wrote, last August. “He would have died on the Moon.”
- Old Glory, Still Standing
It’s hard to imagine an astronaut on the Moon without the famous Stars and Stripes standing next to him. The United States has sunk seven flags into the lunar surface since the first manned mission in 1969, a remarkable six of which are still standing. The fallen flag is this one, arguably the most famous of them all:
>>above: Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S flag during the first manned mission to the Moon, on 20 July 1969. Image by NASA.
The unfortunate flag was planted too close to the lunar module, and was knocked over when Aldrin and Neil Armstrong began their journey back to Apollo 11’s orbiting service module, the Columbia.
Here is a video that shows the shadow cast by the flag pole at the Apollo 12 landing site, in the plains of the ‘Ocean of Storms’, an extensive mare on the western edge of the Moon (as seen from Earth). Note the rover tracks:
- Waving the White Flag
While it could appear that the Moon shares a wardrobe with Uncle Sam, given the abundance of red, white, and blue, the Moon is still somewhat lacking in colour even in 2013. The stars and stripes have long since faded from all seven flags, leaving them white. To quote Paul B. Spudis, of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston:
// “For forty-odd years, the flags have been exposed to the full fury of the Moon’s environment – alternating 14 days of searing sunlight and 100° C heat with 14 days of numbing-cold -150° C darkness. But even more damaging is the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the pure unfiltered sunlight…”
Still, for a piece of portable patriotism rumoured to have cost $5.50 (Apollo 11), you can’t argue.