The first flag to be planted on the moon by human hands was an American flag. It was displayed by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 21, 1969. Armstrong and Aldrin were members of the crew of the Apollo 11, the first manned spacecraft to land on the surface of the moon. It was Armstrong who first stepped onto the moon’s surface, uttering the now well-known line “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Armstrong and Aldrin worked together to plant the pole that displayed the American flag. Photos taken of this first flag on the moon have been the source of some controversy. The flag stands away from the pole, as if being lifted by a brisk breeze. Yet it’s fairly well known that there is no air in the moon’s atmosphere and therefore no way that a breeze could make the flag fly.
A clever trick on the part of Apollo 11 engineers created the illusion of a flag flying on the surface of the moon. They started with an off-the-shelf flag and then added a pocket to the top of the flag through which a collapsible horizontal rod was inserted. This collapsible rod was attached to the flagpole, making the flag stand away from the flagpole at a perpendicular angle. One small glitch occurred when the rod wouldn’t fully extend, making the flag look rippled rather than smooth. This ripple effect actually enhanced the illusion that the flag was waving in the breeze.
The effect was very successful, especially compared to the limp look the flag would have had without its horizontal support bar. The photo of the First Flag on the Moon is now remembered as one of the most significant flag images in the history of the United States. Today there are six U.S. flags on the lunar surface, each planted by a different Apollo mission.