NASA’s Apollo 11 astronauts returned to Earth 50 years ago today (July 24) after landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969. The historical achievement produced two incredibly iconic moments fondly remembered half-a-century later. Firstly, astronaut Neil Armstrong inspired the 600 million people watching back on Earth when he said: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” The second moment, a patriotic nod to the people of America, was the planting of the US flag on the lunar surface.
However, 50 years after the first man walked on the Moon, conspiracy theorists and NASA doubters still believe the Moon landing was fabricated.
A popular hoax claim is the US flag clearly rippled and waved on the Moon as if on a windy day back on Earth.
Conspiracists believe this would have been completely impossible if astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were truly on the airless Moon.
But did the Moon actually wave and ripple in the historic NASA Moon landing footage?
Moon landing: Conspiracists believe the US flag waved and rippled on the Moon in 1969
Moon landing: The flag clearly stays in the same position between photos – It’s not moving
The answer is a simple and definitive no, according to Annie Platoff, a librarian at the University of California (UoC) Santa Barbara Library.
The US flag unfurled on the Moon was a specially crafted banner designed to stand upright in the low gravity lunar environment.
One pole shaft was firmly planted into the ground and held the flag upright.
Another pole extended perpendicularly from the top and made sure the flag was fully extended and stretched out.
Ms Platoff said: “The flag on the Moon is a great illustration of the fact that in space, nothing is simple.
Several factors made it look as though it was flying
“For me, the flag on the Moon is an excellent example of something that seems very, very simple, but once you really start thinking about it, you realise is very complex.”
Any movement conspiracy theorists claim occurs in the footage would have been from the astronauts moving the poles around as the flag was planted.
The astronauts had to use a hammer to drive the vertical pole into the ground and twisted and turned it to secure it in place.
And the apparent rippling of the flag was simply due to the fabric being crumpled and stored away during the four-day trip to the Moon.
If you look closely at NASA’s pictures of the US flag on the Moon, you will clearly see the banner looks identical in each shot and from different angles.
Ms Platoff said: “Once they got the flag up, several factors made it look as though it was flying.
“First there were wrinkles in it because of how tightly it was packed. And these add to the illusion that the flag is waving.
Moon landing: The ripples are caused by the flag being crumpled up for storage
Moon landing timeline: Detailed look back at the Apollo 11 Moon landing
Also, the astronauts didn’t always get the horizontal crossbar extended all the way – they were working in pressurised spacesuits and really cumbersome gloves, after all – which caused the flag to bunch up in place. That also made it look like it’s waving.”
Between 1969 and 1972, NASA landed a total of five crews on the Moon.
These were Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and the final lunar mission Apollo 17.
Each of the incredible lunar landing crews had the privilege of planting and saluting the flag of their nation on the Moon.
Unfortunately, many of the flags have not survived the test of time and the harsh conditions of solar radiation on the Moon.
Quick facts about the Apollo 11 Moon landing:
1. Apollo 11 launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on July 16, 1969
2. While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the surface of the Moon, Michael Collins remained inside of the Columbia spacecraft.
3. The Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 11 into space is the most powerful rocket ever built.
4. The Apollo 11 crew had to spend 21 days in quarantine after their return to Earth
5. Apollo 11’s crew safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969