Each year, on 20 July, we fly a flag to commemorate when the first humans landed on the Moon. Two years ago was the 50th Anniversary. That was a lot of fun and also a good day for the blog. We flew the NASA flag, wrote about the probable state of the flags still on the Moon, and watched a lot of the coverage in real-time, just 50 years removed. I’ll share those posts below.
This year, we are flying an Apollo 11 flag. Well, kind of. We’re flying a flag that was marketed as an Apollo 11 flag. But it’s probably something that was cooked up for the semicentennial. It’s just the Apollo 11 mission patch on a black background. Vexillologists would call this a seal on a bedsheet like most of the state flags in the US.
But honestly, it’s better than those for a few reasons. First, the background is black, while most seals on a bedsheet have a blue background. Most predominantly black flags are black-and-white, so this one is distinctive in both of those groups.
The “seal,” as noted, was a mission patch, and unlike most state seals, patches are designed to be visible on clothing from across a room. That gives the design a simplicity that’s missing from most state seals. It’s clear what you’re looking at even from a distance. That makes it work much better as a flag.
Thirdly, the symbolism is clear and straightforward. The black background represents space, while the meanings of the Earth in the background and the lunar landscape in the foreground are self-evident. The eagle carries an olive branch in his talons to denote the spirit of peaceful exploration. The plaque left behind in the Sea of Tranquility is moving, “We came in peace for all mankind.” The eagle itself can be seen as a representation of its namesake, the lunar lander. Of course, the eagle, a national symbol of the United States, also proclaims that it’s the United States that got there first. Peaceful exploration is all well and good, but it’s impossible to deny the underlying motivation; the US had a Cold War to win.
There’s a lovely article on the NASA Website about the design of the patch.
There are also a couple of things that would mark this flag down according to the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) standards from Good Flag, Bad Flag. and so, I decided to play with the image.
The first is that there’s text. The NAVA standards point out that text is problematic on Flags. It’s both notable and gracious that Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins declined to have their names incorporated into the patch. That allowed it to represent all of the thousands of people who had a part in the endeavor. But it still says “Apollo 11.” How does the flag look without it? Pretty damn good. We don’t need the text to tell us what this is about; that’s undeniable.
The other place that this doesn’t meet the NAVA standards is in the colors. NAVA recommends no more than 4, but this flag has at least ten. That presents a question. Do we need the circles? Here’s a version without them.
I replaced the moonscape and background with part of one of the photos from the mission. This looks a little bland. I think I would be inclined to enlarge the Earth and eagle. And I’d make the background either a black and light grey bi-color or an extended drawing of the Lunar surface from the patch.
The other thing that I did on the 20th was to watch this again, the CBS interview with Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. It’s always a treat.
My initial plan for this article was to transcribe this video and annotate it. There’s some great stuff there, but that turned out to be a time-consuming process. That might be the plan for next year.
For now I’ll leave you with this portion of the interview:
At about 3 minutes into the video, Cronkite muses, “I can’t imagine a moment to equal this. The only thing I could imagine is if some fella came forward and could say, positively, that we’re not going to have any more war.” “I think this is a step in that direction,” Clarke responds, “because this sort of thing is making our stupidities here on Earth seem more and more intolerable. And I think this might be the greatest result of the Space Program.”
Let’s hope that he was right.
Here are the posts from 20 July 2019.
- Apollo 11 on CBS News accessed 1 August 2021
- List of Black Flags accessed 1 August 2021
- The Making of the Apollo 11 Mission Patch accessed 1 August 2021