I have previously told the story of how Coca-Cola used the Apollo 11 homecoming to run a PR campaign and claim earth as “home of Coca Cola”. In fact, I named one of my ‘story’ books after it – “How Coca-Cola took over the world” – so, you can imagine how pleased I was to hear two new space related stories.
One features ‘Tang’, which I will tell in a future blog, and the other which may be apocryphal features Sears.
It appears that with the focus on the ‘rocket’, the landing craft and the astronauts, the flag was almost an afterthought.
So, it was only a few months before the launch date that a plan was hatched. A team, led by NASA engineer Jack Kinzler, were asked to create a ‘flagpole’. The challenge was the ‘pole’ had to be set up by two men wearing space suits and who would have limited mobility.
The limited time frame meant that the flag was not specially made or ordered.
One ‘story’ is that flag was bought out of a government catalogue for $5.50.
The other which I favour, is that a number of flags were bought from Sears in Houston by secretaries from NASA who were sent out to get some during their lunch breaks. This would mean that the flags were made by Annin, the USA’s oldest and largest flag maker and the official supplier to Sears. It seems that an executive from Annin following up on this story called NASA and had the story despite the lack of any real evidence.
What is definitely known is the selected flag was made of nylon and that engineers cut the labels off to make the flag fit onto their specially made poles.
If the story is right this mean that the flag; the first one to be planted in the lunar dust, the one that Buzz Aldrin saluted, the one that was seen by a wide-eyed worldwide TV audience was bought for a few dollars at an everyday mainstream retailer.
However a slightly sad end is that the flag is no longer standing.
Buzz Aldrin has that said that Neil Armstrong told him that he saw the pole blow over during liftoff from the lunar surface.
On a slightly happier note, despite an assumption that the rest of the Apollo flags have blown away or crumbled into dust, in 2012, a lunar orbiter took pictures over the landing sites of Apollo 12, 16, and 17 and the photos showed shadows confirming that the American flags there were still standing, upright and intact, more than four decades later.
They are however all likely to have turned beige from relentless cosmic radiation.