Prototype Apollo Moon Flag
Lot 1166
PROTOTYPE LUNAR FLAGPOLE. Flagpole, anodized aluminum tubing,
Sold for US$ 43,750 inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
PROTOTYPE LUNAR FLAGPOLE.
Flagpole, anodized aluminum tubing, 2 portions each 47 inches long by 7/8 inches diameter. The lower portion with matte section, 2 red-anodized depth markers, and white nylon collar at socket top. The upper portion with another matte section, narrower plug at bottom with sprung ball bearing; at the top is a hinge with sprung locking device, and narrower-gauge telescopic crossbar extending from 47 to 60 inches. With nylon US flag, 35 x 60 inches, with hem at top through which passes the crossbar. Some discoloration to the flag from the anodizing.

About 3 months before Apollo 11, Robert Gilruth asked MSC's Technical Services Division to design a flagpole that could support the US flag in an environment with no atmosphere—the surface of the moon. It had to be lightweight, compact, and easily assembled by astronauts wearing pressurized space suits.
The team at Technical Services came up with a flagpole very similar to the present example. The Apollo 11 flagpole was attached to the left-hand side of Eagle's ladder, and was protected from the heat of Eagle's descent engines by a special heatproof shroud. Aldrin has commented, "It took both of us to set it up and it was nearly a disaster.... As hard as we tried, the telescope wouldn't fully extend. Thus the flag which should have been flat, had its own unique permanent wave. Then to our dismay the staff of the pole wouldn't go far enough into the lunar surface to support itself in an upright position. After much struggling we finally coaxed it to remain upright, but in a most precarious position. I dreaded the possibility of the American flag collapsing into the lunar dust in front of the television camera" (Cortright, Apollo Expeditions to the Moon, 1975).
In later Apollo missions, the lower portion of the pole was hammered into the lunar surface, instead of simply being pushed. The only design change made after Apollo 11 was in the catching mechanism of the crossbar's hinge. The Apollo 12 crew could not get the catch to engage properly and, as a result, the flag drooped slightly. Later models had a double-action latch that would work even if the horizontal bar was not raised above a 90 degree angle. The present example appears to be a single-action latch, and therefore presumably dates from the Apollo 11 period. (See Platoff, Where No Flag Has Gone Before, 1993).
Together with provenance note signed by William R. Whipkey who worked in the Technical Services Division of MSC, describing the flagpole as "the prototype model of the flag and staff placed on the moon by the Apollo 11 crew."
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Contacts
  1. Matthew Haley
    Specialist - Space History
    Bonhams
    Work
    Montpelier Street
    London, SW7 1HH
    United Kingdom
    Work +44 20 7393 3817