The decision regarding whether or not to put an American flag on the moon was a controversial one. Legally, the United States could not claim the moon for itself because of a US treaty that bans the national appropriation of outer space or a celestial body. But the United States could claim the moon symbolically, and that’s what they did with the placement of the flag. NASA was informed by Congress of this decision by on June 10, 1969., just two weeks before take-off.
The American flag was used in a number of ways in the multiple Apollo missions because it strengthened the image of astronauts as all-American, patriotic men. Stars and stripes were embroidered onto the astronauts’ uniforms and were stenciled onto the launch vehicles and the spacecraft in the Mercury and Gemini programs. On July 21, 1969, President Nixon asked that all public buildings display the American flag. In 1981, MTV’s logo became the photo of Neil Armstrong in his spacesuit looking at the flag on the moon.
Tom Moser, who in 1969 was an engineer at the Johnson Space Center, was charged with creating the flag that would be placed on the moon. The flag not only had to fit inside the lunar module, it had to survive the flight. He bought a flag for $5.50 at a local housing goods store, and with help from the technical services department at the space center he created a collapsible flagpole with a horizontal rod sewn in the seam at the top of the flag. The edges that he trimmed off from the flag were recently put up for auction, with an expected selling price of $100,000.
Some sources say that Moser intentionally designed the flag to give it movement. But other sources argue that it was a flaw in the coating of the telescope and that when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin tried to set up the flag, the telescope wouldn’t fully extend, which made the flag look like it had a permanent wave. Conspiracy theorists use the wave in the flag as evidence that the moon landing was a hoax, because there is no breeze on the moon. Therefore, they say that the flag was never on the moon and that the flag’s waves were created by a breeze in a top secret NASA stage set.
Below is a video that showcases the raising of the American flag by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, as well as a 2009 restoration of NASA archive video: