The flag ceremony
On 31 January 1969 Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips asked Robert R. Gilruth of the Manned Spacecraft Center, Wernher von Braun of the Marshall Space Flight Center and Kurt H. Debus of the Kennedy Space Center to suggest symbolic activities that might be undertaken on the first lunar landing mission that would illustrate international agreements regarding the exploration of the Moon. The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space that was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on 27 January 1967 (and, incidentally, witnessed by some of the astronauts, among them
The SWC sheet was designed in metric units, so these have been used here to enhance fidelity.
Buzz Aldrin deploys the SWC.
Neil Armstrong) stated, in part, that the spacefaring powers agreed not to stake territorial claims on celestial bodies. When NASA proposed that the flag of the United Nations be raised, this was rejected by Congress, which directed that the US flag be flown. Phillips proposed that they also either raise the flag of the United Nations alongside the American flag, place decal flags of the member nations of the UN on the descent stage, or just deposit an appropriate information capsule on the surface. However, Congress ordered that only the flag of the United States be raised. In order to preclude any manufacturer claiming to have made the flag used on the Moon, George M. Low ordered that a 3-foot-by-5-foot Stars and Stripes be purchased (at the average price of $3) from every official supplier, that their labels be removed, and that a secretary select a flag at random; the other flags would not go to waste, because if ever there was a mission to prompt the waving of a flag this would be it!
Having returned to Eagle, Armstrong and Aldrin retrieved the flag assembly from stowage in a thermal shroud by the left-hand ladder rail. They then set off northwest, in the general direction of the television camera, Aldrin carrying the lower part of the aluminium staff and Armstrong the upper part of the staff with the crossbar attached at its top by a locking hinge, incorporating the flag itself. Once they were in position, Armstrong rotated the crossbar into position and the two men grasped opposite ends of the telescoping rod in order to draw it out, but it became stuck just short of its full extension.
At this point Columbia appeared around the limb. “How’s it going?” asked Collins. Joan Aldrin sympathised with him, “He doesn’t know what’s going on, poor Mike!’’
“The EVA is progressing beautifully,” McCandless replied. “I believe they are setting up the flag now.’’
“Great!” Collins said.
“I guess you’re about the only person around that doesn’t have TV coverage of the scene,’’ McCandless consoled.
“That’s all right,’’ Collins insisted. “I don’t mind a bit. How is the quality of the television?’’
“Oh, it’s beautiful, Mike. It really is,’’ McCandless assured.
“Oh, gee, that’s great!’’ said Collins. “Is the lighting half-way decent?’’
“Yes, indeed,’’ McCandless confirmed.
Having accepted that the crossbar would deploy no further, Armstrong set out to drive the lower section of the staff into the ground. As in the case of the staff of the SWC, the ground resisted penetration. Frustratingly, the surficial material gave little lateral support to hold the staff upright. On placing the flag assembly on top of the staff, Aldrin stepped back to salute and the flight control team stood, cheered and applauded.
The Mission Operations Control Room during the moonwalk.
“They’ve got the flag up now,” McCandless informed Collins, “and you can see the Stars and Stripes on the lunar surface!’’
“Beautiful,” replied Collins.
While Armstrong held the staff, Aldrin gripped the top and bottom of the flag and attempted to straighten it, in vain. They left it with a ‘permanent wave’ which, in retrospect, gave it a more natural appearance than if they had been able to draw it out totally flat. To finish off, Armstrong snapped two pictures of Aldrin standing by the flag.
Moving to his next checklist assignment, Aldrin set about evaluating modes of mobility. To enable the engineers to monitor his progress, he was to perform this exercise in front of the television camera. When asked, McCandless verified that he was in the field of view. He tested (1) a ‘loping gait’ in which he alternated his feet; (2) a ‘skipping stride’ that always led with the same foot; and (3) a ‘kangaroo hop’ in which both feet acted together. The conventional walking gait proved to be the most effective. On Earth he could easily halt his motion with a single step, but on the Moon it took several steps to slow down because the ratio of mass-to-weight had changed by a factor of 6. Similarly, changing direction while in motion had to be done in stages, stressing the outside leg in order to force the turn. As Aldrin paraded in front of the television camera, his wife laughed so much that her eyes wept. Pat Collins, watching with Barbara Gordon and Sue Bean, was amused by his antics. Jan Armstrong, who was ticking off items on her list, doubted they would achieve all of their assigned tasks in the time available.
Meanwhile, Armstrong had dismounted the Hasselblad and placed it on the MESA in order to start to prepare the equipment with which he was to collect what field geologists call a ‘bulk’ sample of the loose ground mass with embedded rock fragments.
A long-distance phone call
‘‘Tranquility Base, this is Houston,’’ McCandless called formally. ‘‘Could we get both of you on the camera for a minute, please.’’
‘‘Say again, Houston,’’ said Armstrong.
After repeating the request, McCandless added, ‘‘Neil and Buzz, the President of the United States is in his office now and would like to say a few words to you.’’
‘‘That would be an honour,’’ Armstrong said.
Richard Nixon had been watching them on television with Frank Borman in his private office in the White House. After the flag had been raised, Nixon went next door to the Oval Office to place a telephone call to the lunar surface. With a camera set up in the Oval Office, the television networks presented this historic call in splitscreen fashion. Deke Slayton had alerted Armstrong that at some time during the moonwalk (the obvious moment being just after the flag was raised) they might receive a ‘‘special communication”, which they both took to mean a call from Nixon. However, it came as a surprise to Aldrin.
‘‘Go ahead, Mr President,’’ said McCandless.
‘‘Neil and Buzz,’’ Nixon began, ‘‘I’m talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House, and this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made. I just can’t tell you how proud we all are of what you have done. For every American, this has to be the proudest day of our lives. And for people all over the world. I am sure they, too, join with Americans in recognising what an immense feat this is. Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man’s world. And as you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquillity to Earth. For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one; one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.’’ “Thank you, Mr President,’’ Armstrong acknowledged. “It’s a great honour and privilege for us to be here representing not only the United States but men of peace of all nations, and with interest and a curiosity and a vision for the future. It’s an honour for us to be able to participate here today.’’
“And thank you very much,’’ added Nixon, “and I look forward – all of us look forward – to seeing you on the Hornet on Thursday.’’
“I look forward to that very much, sir,’’ replied Armstrong, signing off.
Both astronauts had remained in place throughout the call. Aldrin remained silent and left it to his commander to make the responses.
In the Collins house, Rusty Schweickart said there would be scientists around the world urging the astronauts to push on and collect some rocks. Indeed, Nixon was later criticised by some in the scientific community for having ‘wasted’ the limited time available to the astronauts. Aldrin, following his checklist, shuffled around repeatedly scuffing the surface with his boot to observe how the material dispersed. When sand on a terrestrial beach is scuffed, it disperses in an arc with some of the grains travelling further than others. On the Moon, in the absence of air-drag to sort the particles by size, all the grains landed at the same radius, which depended upon the impulse imparted and the weak lunar gravity. As this phenomenon marked a striking difference between training and reality, Aldrin found it fascinating. On returning to Eagle, Aldrin was struck by the sharpness of the vehicle’s shadow. On standing in sunlight and projecting his arm into the shadow, it seemed to vanish. Furthermore, as he recalled later, ‘‘The light was sometimes annoying, because when it struck our helmets from a side angle it would enter the face plate and make a glare that reflected all over it. As we penetrated a shadow we would get a reflection of our own face, which would obscure anything else. Once when my face went into shadow it took maybe 20 seconds before my pupils dilated out again and I could see details.’’